A compelling portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Wheeler’s rich blending of Elisabeth’s grief over her lost husband and isolation from her family with transcripts from Schwaller’s investigation slowly builds an inviting tale. Readers will be intrigued by Wheeler’s provocative juxtaposition of extremism in both Christian and Muslim ideologies.” —Publishers Weekly
“Theodore Wheeler’s In Our Other Lives is the kind of novel that makes you think deeply about the issues that have faced the United States since 9/11, while also telling a gripping story with great characters.” —Writer’s Bone
“In Our Other Lives is a deep exploration of family, faith, love, sex, abandonment, patriotism, and international intrigue. Historical events and actual people and places are deftly interwoven throughout the narrative. Wheeler’s vividly rendered scenes in Nebraska, Chicago, and Wisconsin, and his characters’ pitch perfect dialogue conjure a compelling tale of life in America in the period after 9/11.” —Lincoln Journal Star
“Theodore Wheeler weaves a compelling and complex narrative of public pain and private loss, of lives ruined by tragedy and at the same time redeemed by discovery. He shows us that people are mysteries, even to those who love them most, and that war and its aftermath reach deep into our land and our hearts.” —Mary Morris, author of Gateway to the Moon
“Reminiscent of the late Denis Johnson’s masterpiece, Tree of Smoke, Wheeler’s sterling novel tackles the modern world’s attempt to systematically catalog the chaos of life. This clear-eyed look at society’s entrance into a fully digitized world delivers a host of fascinating characters’ unknowing struggles within the purview of the recently unveiled Patriot Act. As they wrestle with the old questions of what to believe in, and how to ground a life if you no longer believe in anything, it becomes clear the new information-gathering apparatus fails to understand the longing and need that propel each of them forward. An ambitious and absorbing achievement.” —Devin Murphy, author of Tiny Americans
“Theodore Wheeler’s In Our Other Lives is wholly engrossing. Through the mysteries of the Ahls family, narrated through the eyes of the all-knowing servers that see, hear, and record everything in the wake of the Patriot Act, Wheeler deftly weaves the intricate, vulnerable lives of his characters against the stark backdrop of the American plains, resulting in a poignant book that’s as human as it is political. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.” —SJ Sindu, author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies
“A captivating, thought-provoking, and sweeping novel filled with power and depth. Set against the backdrop of America’s near-decade-long war on terrorism, In Our Other Lives offers a nuanced portrayal of public and private lives and the way those lives intersect, disconnect, and become lost in translation. Different kinds of losses and invasions radiate through this novel, and Wheeler reveals complexities of the human heart with subtle, beautiful prose that surprises as often as it delights.” —Kassandra Montag, author of After the Flood
“Taut, knuckle-whitening, and full of intriguing questions, In Our Other Lives is a page-turner that keeps the reader guessing. An FBI agent visits Omaha, Nebraska, to gather information about a radicalized young man who was either captured while on a mission trip to Pakistan or who voluntarily joined up with a group of terrorists, only to find that in this midwestern city everyone keeps a secret; that disappearances and deaths pervade their lives as surely as they do for those in the Middle East; and that the war abroad is nearer than anyone imagined. Don’t miss out on this thrilling saga about a family in turmoil and the international crisis that ties them all together.” —Phong Nguyen, author of The Adventures of Joe Harper
“Powerful, provocative, fascinating, and deeply unsettling: In Our Other Lives weaves the threads that connect our lives and those who account for this haywire of memory, love, faith, reason, and understanding. I am still thinking about this one, the way it snuck up on me, and how it will not let go.” —Robert Olmstead, author of Savage Country
“With the pace of a thriller and the patience of a psychological study, In Our Other Lives depicts ordinary people consumed by tragedy and obsession. Wheeler skillfully depicts the struggles of mothers, missionaries, and spies, while always paying attention to the small, beautiful impulses that make them human.” —Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters
Wheeler (Kings of Broken Things) tracks the effects of a young man’s disappearance in Pakistan on his family in this unsettling meditation on religious extremism. After Tyler Ahls is reported kidnapped by the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan during a solo Christian missionary trip, his motives are called into question following the release of a ransom video (“Missing American Found; Turncoat?” reads a caption from a cable news network). Tyler’s sister, Elizabeth Holland, holds out hope for Tyler, and when her mother, who runs a Christian-themed gift shop called Apostle Crossing, calls to say Tyler’s still alive, Elizabeth thinks first of her husband, who left her three years ago and hasn’t been seen since. As FBI Agent Frank Schwaller investigates Tyler’s past in an effort to determine whether he is a proselytizing innocent or a terrorist, Schwaller uncovers past emails in which Tyler expresses worry that his vision for a Christian compound around Apostle Crossing will face the same fate as the Branch Davidians. Schwaller frequently follows and interrogates Elisabeth, which takes a toll on her sanity, while she reflects on how Tyler was lost to her well before Pakistan, once he became fanatical about his beliefs. Wheeler’s rich blending of Elisabeth’s grief over her lost husband and isolation from her family with transcripts from Schwaller’s investigation slowly builds an inviting tale. Readers will be intrigued by Wheeler’s provocative juxtaposition of extremism in both Christian and Muslim ideologies. (Mar.)
The third book from Wheeler (Kings of Broken Things, 2017, etc.) has the form of a post-9/11 thriller, but it's really a psychological novel: What are the mysteries that surveillance can't lay bare, that sleuthing can't solve or pin down?
It's 2008. Tyler Ahls, a former ROTC cadet and Christian missionary from Wisconsin who disappeared months earlier on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, appears in a terrorist propaganda video, startling his sister, Elisabeth Holland, an Omaha nurse. Elisabeth is no stranger to tragedy; three years earlier, her husband abruptly drove away from their Chicago apartment, disappearing without a trace; soon after, their infant son died suddenly. Now, after the propaganda video, FBI Special Agent Frank Schwaller—who, thanks to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and a resulting mass of surveillance data, knows much, much more than Elisabeth does about both brother and husband—comes to Omaha to see if he can unravel the knot of connections between and among these three. The novel's strength is in its portrait of the stoic, tough, but uncynical Elisabeth. Her coping mechanism through all the trials of her life—overbearing and hyperreligious evangelical Christian parents, a private-college experience curtailed by an injury that took away her athletic scholarship, runaway husband, the shocking death of her child—has been to move briskly along and then shelter in place, not delving too deeply into her own motives or anyone else's. It's not that she's incurious; it's that she knows that investigating the whereabouts or motives of those who've left her will avail her nothing. That attitude makes her a subject of fascination for Schwaller. Other elements of the book don't quite coalesce, and sometimes details, especially those about federal law enforcement and surveillance, don't quite ring true, but Elisabeth fascinates.
A compelling portrait wrapped inside a less compelling international plot.