An engrossing, beautifully written novel about what makes us who we are
Would you live your life differently if you were given a second chance? Hannah, David, Connie, and Linda — four terminally ill patients — have been selected for the SUBlife pilot program, which will grant them brand-new, genetically perfect bodies that are exact copies of their former selves — without a single imperfection. Blemishes, scars, freckles, and wrinkles have all disappeared, their fingerprints are different, their vision is impeccable, and most importantly, their illnesses have been cured.
But the fresh start they’ve been given is anything but perfect. Without their old bodies, their new physical identities have been lost. Hannah, an artistic prodigy, has to relearn how to hold a brush; David, a Congressman, grapples with his old habits; Connie, an actress whose stunning looks are restored after a protracted illness, tries to navigate an industry obsessed with physical beauty; and Linda, who spent eight years paralyzed after a car accident, now struggles to reconnect with a family that seems to have built a new life without her. As each tries to re-enter their previous lives and relationships they are faced with the question: how much of your identity rests not just in your mind, but in your heart, your body?
What would you do if you were given a second chance? Not only a second chance, but a second body — fresh, new, cloned. Completely clear of defective genes, and devoid of the scars and weathering of everyday life. This is, in part, the premise of Jessica Chiarella’s fantastic debut novel, And Again. It is also one of the first must-reads of the year.
Following the experiences of the four members of the SUBLife pilot programme, Chiarella takes us through a number of different scenarios to ask — but not necessarily answer — questions about identity, love, talent and what makes us… well, us. Is love purely chemical? If your personality and memories are transferred into a new clone of yourself, would your tastes remain the same? Would you be attracted to the same men and/or women? Will your proclivities and weaknesses — for alcohol, risky behaviour — resurface? Will your artistic abilities transfer with you? Each of these are addressed in the novel, and all with a welcome light touch. At no point did it feel like Chiarella was forcing an answer on the reader. In ever scene, the characters felt realistic and genuine; we feel their struggles, their anxieties and frustrations. It could have been clunky, but the author has composed a fluid, engaging novel.
It’s a relatively ‘quiet’ novel, but I was hooked from very early on. I loved spending time with these characters, getting to know them. I felt for them when they felt lost, or hurt; and cheered for the small victories they enjoyed. I hadn’t known what to expect when I started it, but I came away thinking this is one of my favourite novels from the past few years. Beautiful, near-perfectly composed prose; a story and characters that pulled me through and made me feel invested. The characters are by no means perfect, which is ultimately where the novel’s beautiful, messy humanity comes from.
Absolutely a must read, I loved this novel. I can’t wait to read Chiarella’s next book. Very highly recommended.
And Again is out now, published by Touchstone.