Archive

Posts Tagged ‘writing about race’

Book Review: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

January 16, 2023 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A white woman with a high bun stares at two nearly identical photos of palm trees.

Revisit the land of Sliding Doors in this exploration of two different paths one life can take due to one decision.

Summary:
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. 

Review:
I consider the 1998 movie Sliding Doors to be a cult classic. Whether or not you agree, the term “a sliding doors moment” has entered the lexicon, meaning a moment in a character’s life where their seemingly innocuous decision has far-reaching impact on how their life plays out. I had been curious to read a Taylor Jenkins Reid book. The mention of her name stirs up controversy. Some folks love her work. Others find it problematic. I wanted to read one for myself to see. I thought it would be the most fair to read the one that appealed to me the most, and that was this one.

I found it to be an enjoyable piece of contemporary chick lit. To be fair, it’s hard for a book with a sliding doors moment to turn me off. I just love the idea so much. Evidence of this fact is how much time this book spends in a location I dislike, the fact that I didn’t like either of the potential love interests, and that health sciences careers are featured prominently…which is something I prefer not to visit in my leisure reading. But I still gave it four stars. Because I just love the sliding doors moment so much. So for me it was an enjoyable read. But after the fact, I did get to thinking about the things I didn’t like, and it left me kind of scratching my head as to why I enjoyed it so much. Beyond the fact it was simply just really lighthearted, which I needed at the moment.

A non-controversial issue I had with it is that I don’t think the sliding doors moment is really in the spirit of a sliding doors moment. In the movie that gave us the phrase, it’s literally simply whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow’s character catches a subway train or has to wait for the next one. Whether the doors slide closed in her face or not. In this one, it’s whether or not the main character stays at a bar with her high school ex-boyfriend after not seeing him for years and moving back to town. That just simply feels like a life-defining moment in a way that catching or missing a subway train (that usually come a few minutes apart) does not.

To address some of the criticism about how Taylor Jenkins Reid, a white woman writer, handles race. I want to be crystal clear – I’m a white woman author too. So this is not a critique from a BIPOC voice. I can see what the author is trying to do. She’s trying to be inclusive and accurately reflect the diverse world of LA. But I can also see why how she depicts race rubs some people the wrong way – and this isn’t one of the books where the main character is a woman of color. Hannah is white. So I can see how it would be more of an issue in one of those books. The biggest issue in this book to me is that characters are default white unless Taylor Jenkins Reid describes them as not white. (Andrea J. Johnson discusses this in point 3 of her very insightful post from the perspective of a Black woman author on writing race.) She does mention Hannah is white, but every other character defaults to white unless described otherwise. Hannah’s best friend is Black, and there is a cringe moment where Hannah asks her in a flashback if her new college friend is a closer friend because she’s Black too. On the one hand, I appreciate flawed characters. On the other hand, I’m not sure why that scene was even included. It was part of introducing how Hannah and Gabby are best friends but Hannah is white and Gabby is Black and it’s no big deal. Interracial friendships are great and belong in literature! But how it was handled in this book definitely made me cringe.

A related moment that made me cringe, is when Hannah and Gabby lay in a bed together and just wish they weren’t straight so they could just simplify their lives and remove all men and just be together tee-hee! As a bisexual, queer woman this makes me see red. It’s not an endearing moment. It’s not cute. I absolutely loathe it when straight women do things like this. Because, as someone who is capable of being attracted to many genders, what keeps a friendship from progressing to a romantic relationship isn’t at all simply what body parts someone has. With my really good friends whose sexual orientations line up with mine, what kept us from becoming romantic partners was far more nuanced than that. At its simplest, it’s that romantic love and friend love are not the same thing, and I’m not in romantic love with them. (I am in romantic love with my spouse.) I have to admit, I didn’t read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo because it has a bisexual main character, and I knew Taylor Jenkins Reid is straight, and I just was not in the mood for dealing with questionable representation. Having read this book and this moment, I think I made the right choice for me.

I was also left confused about what the book’s message is about fate. Without spoilers, there are three hugely impactful aspects of a person’s life – whether or not they partner, if they do with whom, and what their career is. Some of these are the same in both lives and some of them are not. What is this saying about fate, then? I found the mixed message puzzling, especially when Gabby’s life seemed nearly identical in both storylines.

Overall, while I found this to be a fluffy and very readable book, in retrospect I’m left wondering how I managed to enjoy it so much. There are cringey moments in it, and even the sliding doors moment itself is a bit too big to really count. From what I’ve seen in this book, I can see why there’s controversy. I think I’ll be getting my fluffy reads from other sources in the future. Recommended if you’re a sliding doors moment enthusiast who really wants to have consumed all the media out there with such a moment.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codes. Thank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 342 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)