I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories. Exploring “what if” questions is just so much fun. “What if” can range from the small to grand questions of life. What if I hadn’t made that left turn? What if I had taken that job? What if I had moved to Seattle? I was really excited to see a book exploring “what ifs” and decided to give COME WITH ME a read.
Amy is a busy mom of three boys, struggling to keep the family financially afloat while her unemployed husband spends his time on Twitter. Amy’s twice-daily runs help her feel grounded and give her time to think. And, sometimes, she thinks about “what if” questions. What if she had stayed with her boyfriend, Eric? What if she didn’t have to work for her best friend’s son? What if her daughter had lived?
Not-so-luckily for Amy, she works for Donny. He is the son of Amy’s best friend, which often results in awkward situations for Amy. Donny takes advantage of the near-familial relationship to drop in at Amy’s home or pout his way into getting what he wants at work. (If there’s one person I felt truly bad for while reading this book, it’s Amy.)
Donny has come up with a way to use algorithms to analyze a person’s life. Using virtual reality goggles, a person can experience what would happen if they had made a different decision in the past. No time travel or wormholes needed, just a computer program. And because he can, Donny makes Amy the first test subject.
Her first experience is horrifying. Over and over, she watches an event unfold wherein one of her sons is hit — or almost hit — by a car. As awful as the experience is, Amy finds herself unable to say no when Donny asks her to use the VR goggles again.
Meanwhile, her husband, Dan, decides to run away to Japan. He’s following Maryam, a fellow journalist with whom he has fallen in love. As they travel to Fukushima to interview a man living in the radioactive ruins, Dan is exhilarated by the idea that he has done something so adventurous, just like the journalists he follows on Twitter.
A crisis brings all the characters together, along with the weight of the decisions they have — and haven’t — made. Though both Amy and Dan are searching for an emotional connection, they don’t find it with each other. They’re both so interested in “what if” that they stop seeing what’s right in front of them.
While this is surely a book about the “what if” questions in life, Schulman spends very little time actually exploring the possible alternatives. Instead, the book is more about dealing with those “what ifs” in everyday life. Amy is too busy being a mother to all the men in her life to spend much time pondering alternate lives. Dan takes the plunge and actually steps into the world of the “what if” by running away to Japan with Maryam. But will either of them find what they’re looking for?
Schulman doesn’t stick to telling the story just through main characters. Amy and Dan are the two characters around whom most of the action takes place. Some sections are told from the point of view of minor characters, which can be distracting from the main story. However, Schulman does an excellent job giving each character a unique voice. Dan’s ADD shines through in rambling, long paragraphs that change subject frequently. Amy’s thoughts revolve around all of the things she has to take care of: lunches, kids, work, money, laundry, and more.
To be honest, when I first read the synopsis for Come With Me, I expected a heavy science fiction novel, exploring alternate universes and missed opportunities. I was slightly wrong in that assumption. While the book is actually fairly light on sci-fi elements, it’s certainly heavy. And though the characters don’t travel throughout the multiverse, they do spend a lot of time with the weight of their choices.
Sometimes, life doesn’t turn out how we expect. That doesn’t mean it’s any less good that the “what if” worlds we can dream up. It’s important to remember that we can’t change the past, but the future is up to us.
Book review by: Leslie Hayes