Elysium, by Jennifer Marie Brissett


What It’s About

Two soulmates try to stay together in a tangle of computer simulated realities.

Why I Think You’d Like It

Narratives that show alternate versions of the same people are viscerally fascinating. We all wonder, if our environment were changed, how much of us would stay the same. I’ve tried a number of films and novels that use this concept, always really wanting to like them, but mostly I’ve been too disappointed to even finish them. Half of them are so obsessed with the gimmick of the narrative that they never give you time to get attached to the characters or plots in any reality. The other half seem to be using this as an excuse to write five stories only seventy percent of the way. Who needs to wrap up loose ends when you can just excuse it all by saying you’re being “profound”?

Although it’s entirely likely that I’m just a picky bastard.

In any case, this book absolutely nailed it, even for someone as particular as me. You wonder about the connections between the worlds and where the story is taking you, but you always understand what is happening now. You’re not lost, you’re curious.

We follow Adrianne and Antoine, who are sometimes Adrian and Antoinette or Adrian and Antoine or Adrianne and Antoinette, through a mixture of realistic and surrealistic worlds, all of which throw some kind of obstacle between them. Sometimes they are lovers or spouses, other times siblings or parent and child, but in every world they make you ache to see them together. Some stories are long, some short. Sometimes details change one at a time until world A becomes world B, like a literary version of an Escher painting. Other times we are jerked abruptly from place to place. Each transition feels meaningful, like there was a reason it happened one way or another.

Each individual story is satisfying, though usually in a bittersweet way. You are left with questions, but not painfully dangling threads. The similarities between the stories are clever and intentional. They let you put together theories about the reality underpinning all these fantasies, but like all good mysteries, you aren’t sure how the pieces fit until the very end. The resolution was beautiful; equally satisfying on an intellectual and emotional level.

It’s smart, artistic, moving and deeply absorbing. It’s one of those “finished it in a weekend because I could not put it down” books, and it’s getting added to my personal collection ASAP. I need to read it again.

Content Warnings

It’s intense without being graphically violent. It relies on more existentially terrifying concepts; post apocalyptic worlds, alien internment camps, scary cults, abusive mental hospitals, terminal illnesses etc.

Also, there are a few graphic sex scenes, but they are loving and consensual.


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