Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you’d made different choices? Gone to a different college, made a different friend, worked a different job. Now, try thinking even smaller. How would your life be different if you’d gone left instead of right a hike in woods? Chosen a different route to work? Had cereal for breakfast instead of toast? This book considers the power of the butterfly effect, and the way that the smallest choices can not only change our lives but cause us to think and act in dramatically different ways.
The story follows Jane, a college dropout still reeling from the recent death of her aunt, who is invited by a friend to a gala in strange house on a private island off the coast of New York City. As soon as Jane arrives on the island, a series of strange events occur, none of which make sense independently until, all of the sudden, Jane is faced with what seems like small choice: who to follow down a hallway. She is presented with five different choices, and each choice leapfrogs the book not only down a drastically different path but into an entirely different genre. An art heist, a spy thriller, a gothic horror, a space opera, a portal fantasy: each of the five “paths” tells a version of the same two day span that could not be more different, but speak to Cashore’s remarkable literary talent.
This reminded me of how I used to delight in reading Choose Your Own Adventure books over and over again as a kid, just to see the different combinations I could have ended up with. Another apt comparison is a legendary episode of the TV show Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory”, in which the episode documents the different narrative outcomes caused by different dice rolls.
This book is brilliant in so many ways. It’s heartfelt, human characters, its clever, self-referential jokes, its vulnerable, unapologetically bisexual protagonist, its validation of the aimless nature of your 20s. But what Cashore has really done here is create a masterclass in innovative fiction, reminding us that there is never one single direction in which to take a story, and creating one of the most unique narrative experiments I have read in recent memory