Kate Atkinson’s novel “Life After Life” is a grown-up choose-your-own-adventure book with the writer rather than the reader doing the choosing. Atkinson takes the story down one path, then backs up to the fork in the road and chooses the opposite fork–again and again. Ursula, the main character dies at birth, strangled by her umbilical cord. But a few pages later the story re-boots and Ursula lives. The forward and backward motion of the story gives us a variety of possible outcomes for many of the characters, and what happens to each of them in the various versions of their stories changes the trajectory of the other characters’ lives as well.
Izzie, a birthmother, enters the narrative like THIS, but in another version of the plot the baby is kept and raised as their own by Sylvie and her husband–until he’s drowned in a seashore mishap. In yet another, the baby is adopted and Izzie lives a life designed to cover her pain and regret. Other possibilities are played out too.
The structure of this novel is unique, and the exploration of outcomes as they turn on life’s lynchpin moments is powerful and poignant. “What if?” the reader is forced to ask over and over again. As I read this book, I asked that question about my own life too. What birthmother hasn’t asked, “What if….?”