And Again by Jessica Chiarella
I knew I would read Jessica Chiarella’s novel And Again when it was described as being in the spirit of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. Those two books, which I devoured and chose for my book club, share an “atmosphere,” for lack of a better word, that I indeed recognized in And Again. The atmosphere is one of an unknown future with unsettling changes to life as we know it, but in a character-driven story. In all three books, the original premise does not become more important than the core stories and the characters who inhabit these slightly altered worlds.
Where in Station Eleven we have a virus that has wiped out 99% percent of the world’s population and in The Age of Miracles we have a slight change in the Earth’s rotation, in And Again we have four characters who are test subjects in a cutting edge medical experiment to put a person’s memories in a body’s clone. The premise puts the characters (and therefore the readers) in the position to consider deeper questions about the body versus the soul, the concept of imperfection, the potential of a second chance at life, and the ethics of medical advancements that allow people in power to decide who is “deserving” of that second chance.
Set in Chicago, And Again centers on four characters on the brink of death or trapped in their damaged bodies who after a major surgery wake up in perfect physical versions of their former selves. The four characters who otherwise would have no reason to know each other form a support group (and test study group) at the hospital for a few months as they get used to their new bodies. We have Hannah, a young artist; David, a congressman; Connie, an actress; and Linda, a mother who has spent the last eight years paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking once for yes and twice for no.
I was most fascinated by Linda’s story. Linda got in a terrible car accident when her kids were very young and spent the following eight years unable to care for them or even know them. Her husband took care of her for as long as possible in their home, but eventually he had to move her to a full-time facility where he visited once a week. When Linda undergoes the experimental cloning procedure, her husband is eager for her to move home and resume their life together. The problem is, Linda does not feel like anyone’s wife and she especially does not feel like the mother of those children. The fact of her biological connection to the kids cannot make up for the previous eight years of not knowing them. Although her husband is devoted and doting, Linda cannot forget the problems in their marriage (mostly her doing) from before the accident.
The other three characters have interesting situations as well, and I was riveted as I followed along to see how their new perfect bodies (not even a freckle!) would fare in their old lives after so many years of disease and pain. I cannot say more without giving too much away except that I highly recommend And Again for a quality, high concept read with many literary qualities and most importantly, solid writing.
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