“A must-read—a gorgeous literary novel that asks us to imagine all the possible versions of ourselves that might exist.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Saints for All Occasions
The residents of a sleepy mountain town are rocked by troubling visions of an alternate reality in this dazzling debut that combines the family-driven suspense of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere with the inventive storytelling of The Immortalists.
In the quiet haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in parallel realities. Ginny, a devoted surgeon whose work often takes precedence over her family, has a baffling vision of a beautiful co-worker in Ginny’s own bed and begins to doubt the solidity of her marriage. Ginny’s husband, Mark, a wildlife scientist, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation and grows increasingly paranoid, threatening the safety of his wife and son. Samara, a young woman desperately mourning the recent death of her mother and questioning why her father seems to be coping with such ease, witnesses an apparition of her mother healthy and vibrant and wonders about the secrets her parents may have kept from her. Cass, a brilliant scholar struggling with the demands of new motherhood, catches a glimpse of herself pregnant again, just as she’s on the brink of returning to the project that could define her career.
At first the visions are relatively benign, but they grow increasingly disturbing—and, in some cases, frightening. When a natural disaster threatens Clearing, it becomes obvious that the visions were not what they first seemed and that the town will never be the same.
Startling, deeply imagined, and compulsively readable, Kate Hope Day’s debut novel is about the choices we make that shape our lives and determine our destinies—the moments that alter us so profoundly that it feels as if we've entered another reality.
Advance praise for If, Then
“Effortlessly meshing the dreamlike and the realistic, [Kate Hope] Day’s well-crafted mix of literary and speculative fiction is an enthralling meditation on the interconnectedness of all things.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Day’s complex debut explores the mind-bending idea that for every decision made, alternate choices lead to different lives. . . . Multiverse-theory fans will love the speculation offered in this novel.”—Booklist
“A suburban drama built to leap from page to screen.”—Kirkus Reviews
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.00(d)|
About the Author
Kate Hope Day holds a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. She was an associate producer at HBO. She lives in Oregon with her husband and their two children.
Read an Excerpt
The earth trembles. She tastes metal. That’s how it starts on a moonless Sunday in Clearing, Oregon, in the shadow of the dormant volcano locals call Broken Mountain.
Just after 10:00 p.m. Ginny stands at the bathroom sink, a toothbrush in one hand and a paperback in the other. She always reads like this, in minutes parceled out from her packed days—in the bathroom after everyone has gone to bed, or parked in her car when she gets to the hospital a little early. The heat whirs in the vent. She considers staying up to read another chapter. Her husband, Mark, is already asleep in the next room.
Her pager buzzes from the bedroom and she retrieves it from her bedside table. A series of familiar numbers scrolls across the tiny backlit screen. The emergency room. “Damn.”
She dials the number. “ER,” the nurse answers.
“This is Dr. McDonnell. I was paged?”
“Let me get Dr. Pierce.”
Classical music plays energetically in her ear. She sits down on the edge of the bed. Suddenly she’s tired.
One of the cats jumps down from the comforter and stalks out the door toward Noah’s bedroom. But Mark doesn’t stir. He’s learned how to sleep through her nighttime pages. His face is naked without his glasses, his curly hair black against the white sheets.
She turns down the volume on the phone and switches on her lamp. Mark rolls over on his side but doesn’t wake. The music is tinny and faraway in her ear. The floor shakes; there’s a metallic taste in her mouth. Her vision abruptly alters—
Where Mark was sleeping a woman appears. Her face is so familiar . . . Edith. Her friend’s hair is always pulled back in a bun at the hospital. Now it fans out in crinkly waves across the pillow. Freckles stipple her shoulders and the tops of her breasts.
Ginny smells warm skin and damp sheets; she hears her own quickened breath. A swell of desire, uncomfortably strong, rises inside her abdomen. The woman reaches out, as if to stroke Ginny’s hair.
Then, in an instant, she’s gone. Mark’s back in the bed.
Ginny rubs her eyes, blinking furiously.
“Doctor McDonnell—” Brian Pierce’s strident voice comes through the phone. “We’ve got a seventy-five-year-old man with a rigid abdomen, white blood count of 24,000, fever of 101.2, peritoneal signs, and free air on abdominal films. Came into the ER about an hour ago. His name is Robert Kells. Can you come in and take a look?”
She’s silent for a beat, her mind still anchored to Edith’s lovely face. “Any major medical issues?” she finally musters.
“A history of liver disease—” There’s the rustle of paperwork. “We’ve admitted him a couple of times for pancreatitis. That’s it.”
“We need to set up for an ex-lap.” Her brain has come back to life, has switched into the proper gear.
“I’ll tell the charge nurse. Just get on the road. This guy isn’t going to last long.”
Ginny follows her usual routine: pulls on scrubs, scrapes her hair into a short ponytail, and rubs lip balm on her lips. She climbs into her Acura SUV and backs out into the deserted cul-de-sac. Her neighbors’ porch lights are off. Behind her house the forest is a dark blank. Rain mists her windshield.
She drives down the hill and across town, and the mountain recedes in her rearview mirror. She usually likes the ride to the hospital at night—the empty streets, the sealed-in quiet of her car, the gentle tack tack tack of her turn signal as she idles at stoplights. But tonight these things don’t bring her peace.
She’s disturbed by what she saw. She must have fallen asleep for a second. Or she has a brain tumor. She recalls a list of symptoms from her neurosurgery rotation in residency:
problems with balance
blurred or double vision
seeing things that aren’t there . . .
She turns into the staff parking lot. The scrubs, the ponytail, the car ride—they haven’t done their job. There’s an irritating flutter in her chest.
Inside, the fluorescent lights of the ER are a welcome slap in the face. Her clogs squeak against the polished floors. Her patient waits, supine, behind a green curtain in the freezing pre-op holding room. As soon as she pulls the thin cloth closed behind her she feels better.
“Mr. Kells, I’m Dr. McDonnell, the surgeon who will be taking care of you.” She enunciates each word, speaking over the beeping racket that surrounds them, and looks steadily into the man’s broad, ashen face. He says nothing but holds her gaze firmly.
She picks up his chart. “My apologies. Professor Kells.”
“Robby,” he says in a hoarse whisper. He has thick eyebrows and a full head of gray hair, and she can easily imagine him at the front of a lecture hall.
“I’m going to examine you now. Is that all right?”
She rubs her hands together to warm them, lifts his hospital gown, and feels along his pale stomach. “I’m going to press down on your abdomen. Can you tell me if it hurts more or less when I release the pressure?”
She presses, lets go, and watches his face twist into an ugly grimace. He makes no sound. She’s impressed with his stoicism. His silent scowl makes her think of her father, when he first got sick. Professor Kells is about the same age her father would be if he were still alive.
She puts her stethoscope in her ears and listens carefully to the four quadrants of his belly.
“Do you teach at the university?” she asks.
“Impressive.” She picks up his chart again. “Just want to double check. No history of heart disease or arrhythmia? Any cardiac events at all?”
He shakes his head.
“Good. We want to get you back to your books and your students. But to do that I need to find out what’s causing the discomfort in your abdomen. There’s a good chance you have a perforation in your intestine. If you do, and it isn’t repaired soon, you could die. We’re ready to take you to the OR now. Do you give your consent?”
“We’ll do the very best we can for you.”
He grips her hand with surprising strength. “How about better than your best?” he asks, with a hint of a smile.
“All right.” She laughs. “You got it.”
Reading Group Guide
1. If, Then takes inspiration from the concept of counterfactuals. On page 21, Cass says, "If I hadn’t been assigned a cubical in the sciences library, I would never have met Amar," and "If I’d remembered to pack my birth control pills on our camping trip to the redwoods, Leah wouldn’t exist." What’s a counterfactual from your own life?
2. How does the natural world affect the experiences of each of the four main characters? How would you describe nature as a force in the book?
3. When and why in your own life have you felt—as Cass and Ginny do—that you wanted or needed to be in two places at once?
4. The main characters are at different points in their lives. How does the novel represent the various phases of family life?
5. Was there one character you identified with more than the others? Why?
6. There are a lot of workplace scenes in the novel. How do the characters' jobs shape them as people? How do their jobs affect their relationships with others?
7. Place is a vivid component in the novel. How would you describe the town of Clearing?
8. The novel charts the disintegration of Ginny and Mark’s marriage over the course of the story. What do you think went wrong in their relationship?
9. Samara finds it difficult to let go of her parents’ house, and the memories associated with it. Do you feel as she does about your own childhood home?
10. What do you think is causing the visions?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If, Then was totally different from anything I've read before, at least recently. The book centers around the residents of a small town in Oregon. Several of the residents start having "visions" of themselves in alternate realities, and as time goes on, the visions become increasingly dark and realistic. I loved how the past, present, and future were all intertwined, as well as the lives of the characters. Day's portrayal of the difficulties of new motherhood was incredibly poignant, and she successfully investigated the intricacies of marriage in a really raw, emotional way. I loved this book because it made me think, both about life as we know it, and about the lives that could have been. This was a really fascinating and touching read. For my full review, check out my blog at bmoregirlreads.com!
I started off liking If, Then. The author did a great job at setting the groundwork for a great book. Each character (and secondary characters) was relatable in their own way. I was fine with the book until halfway through. Then the book went a different direction. It was that sudden change in the plotline that made me go “Eh?“. I actually had to reread several chapters to understand what I was reading. I do not like when I have to do that. Like I mentioned above, I liked the characters at the beginning of the book. Each character was relatable and likable. Even when things started to get weird (and man, did they), I still liked them. If I had to pick one who wasn’t a favorite, it was Ginny. She couldn’t make up her mind who she wanted to be with. I wanted to shake her. I got lost reading the plotline during the 2nd half of the book. What made me lost was Cass’s storyline and the storyline with Other Mark. I had questions about both storylines there were not answered. I can’t get into what they were here but they were legitimate. I also found the main storyline a bit much. The end of the book seemed rushed. While I am glad that everything worked out, it seemed too pat and a little rushed. I was almost hoping for someone not to have a happy ending. That would have changed things up a little bit.
The book held my interest but I can't say I was left feeling all that satisfied by the time the story wrapped up. While the explanation of why everything occurred wasn't the thing that bothered me, I had this empty feeling when I was done reading because it felt like I got nothing out of the whole purpose of the story. I rarely read science fiction but I thought the premise for this one sounded like it had potential. Basically four neighbors are just living their lives in Oregon when some weird stuff starts happening. They have these visions where they see themselves in this alternate reality. What the heck is going on? I gave this one 3 stars because this was a page turner for me. But if I ask myself, did I really get anything out of this read?, I would have to say no. I've read some of the other reviews and that certainly wasn't the case for everyone. It's not a bad book and I don't regret reading, I just wish I would have connected more with the overall message of the story. I won a free copy of this book in a giveaway but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion