Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin

ElsewhereElsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A peaceful, idyllic village where mothers are revered but mysteriously disappear without a trace.

Vera grew up in a remote, isolated mountain village with her father, who owned and ran the local photography shop. Every aspect of life was guided by traditions whose origins had been long lost in time. It was a small place where everyone knew everyone else and their business. And what they couldn’t provide for themselves was supplied from outside the village or “elsewhere,” as they called it, during regular stops by the trader known as Mr. Phillips, who in turn took the villagers’ wares back with him for sale.

The children all went to the local school, and the girls dreamed of the day they would finish their education, marry, and become a mother, hoping the “affliction” would pass them by for one less favored. The village was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, but regularly, mothers would mysteriously disappear from their homes and beds without a trace.

Vera’s mother had “gone” when she was a little girl of five or six. Now with a husband and daughter of her own, Vera was seeing the signs that she, too, would soon be “gone.”

Elsewhere is a fascinating puzzle of a book that kept me riveted to its pages with its mysterious and almost taunting plot and the compelling narrative in the voice of the main character, Vera. The writing is smooth and absorbing in its style and delivery. Although the cause of the affliction remained a mystery to me, not knowing all the full backstory of the town and its residents, I was wowed! This slow burn of a story of Vera becoming a mother and all that meant to her was utterly engrossing.

Then, too, there were the truths women face when they become mothers. One is never totally prepared for what motherhood entails, and even the most experienced still have moments of doubt and lapses in confidence. I thought the way the village responded to the mothers who disappeared, desperately trying to pinpoint why each was gone, was shocking and perfect in the story. As mentioned in the book’s synopsis, aspects such as the traditions and the position of the mothers in the village society did remind me of Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The village itself is idyllic, but the grove, the jungle on the outskirts, and the mountains were atmospheric and frightening, as were the clouds that crept in every evening, obscuring the familiar and hiding everything and everyone under a moisture-laden blanket of white. As I read, I felt like the physical village was breathing down my neck.

With its moody setting, compelling narrative, and unsettling underlying mystery, I recommend ELSEWHERE for readers who like speculative fiction and have enjoyed works such as The Lottery by Shirley Jackson or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in the past.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher, Celadon Press.

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