Reviews for Elsewhere

by Alexis Schaitkin

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In a remote fairy-tale town where mothers keep disappearing, one young woman makes a run for it. “How does a motherless mother mother? How does she know how, or does she simply not know?...I reminded myself it wasn't true I was motherless. I had a mother.” Like all the children in her foggy, vaguely Alpine village, Vera was just a girl when her mother literally vanished into thin air. The same thing had just happened to her best friend, Ana, the week before, but for reasons Vera will never understand, this commonality ends their friendship rather than cements it. In a complete departure from her debut, Saint X (2020), Schaitkin’s sophomore novel is a fabulist narrative with Shirley Jackson overtones and Margaret Atwood themes; other writers working in this vein include Sophie Mackintosh, Leni Zumas, and Claire Oshetsky. The author devotes a good bit of time to worldbuilding, filling in the sights, smells, foods, and customs of the town, from the creamery where doe’s milk is made into cheese to the Alpina Hotel, where Vera’s father takes her and her friends for tea every year on her birthday and local newlyweds get a night in the honeymoon suite. Despite the many spooky aspects of life in the village, an unstated prohibition against leaving has seemingly been effective so far. Though she feared she might spend her life as a spinster, working beside her father in the town’s photography shop, Vera ends up a wife and then a mother, finding more passion in these roles than she dreamed possible. But one day, she sees that her image is blurred in a photo from her daughter's birthday party; soon after, she loses control of her hands. Knowing “the affliction” is upon her, she bolts. Vera’s Rumspringa stretches out about a decade, it seems, motored by dream logic through a series of weird situations whose allegorical import is unclear. Thankfully, the road eventually doubles back to questions left open in the village, some of which are answered. An elaborately imagined yet not quite satisfying fable of loss and isolation. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.