Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Kelly walks through a door on her twenty-ninth birthday and finds herself in another life. A moderately-successful Chicago-based artist, she suddenly finds herself married and living the suburbs. The problem is, she has all the memories of both lives coalescing in her mind, and no idea about how she got there.

‘The possibility of my entire history ceasing to exist, of it never having existed, induces a dreamlike horror that stops up my throat. I can’t speak.’

She remembers, for example, that she loves her husband, Eric. She knows the name of her nieces and nephews that do not exist in her ‘real’ life. She knows the contents of all the cupboards in her suburban kitchen. But at the same time, she has the memories of her Chicago life – her best friend, Linnea. Her cat and roommates. Her beloved art studio. Experiencing, understandably, a profound sense of disorientation, she bolts to Chicago when Eric has gone to work, desperate to retrace her steps and find any traces of the life that was once hers. It’s a slow burn mystery, and I was intrigued to see how it would play out within the confines of the genre.

‘What I’m searching for is some emotional connection to the life I find myself living. But even with my entire history laid out in front of me, I’m unable to feel that it’s mine.’

The narrative gets even more interesting when the two timelines appear to begin to bleed into one another – Kelly’s tattoos begin to appear on her arms, before fading immediately. Photos disappear and reappear on the walls. And there’s a general unease about Eric, too. He seems almost too perfect – and those of us acquainted with a thriller know that can only mean one thing.

It’s a great concept, and compelling reading for the first 60% or so. I haven’t read anything with this premise, so to me, at least, it felt like a refreshing take on a manipulative relationship. My main problem was that it was sort of sci-fi, sort of thriller – without accomplishing either entirely effectively. Taking on a sci-fi concept, like this, requires real finesse. I’ve never read anything that falls into the science-fiction without the science category (though if this is a well-established genre, I stand corrected!) and to me the light-touch on how the time travel actually worked just left too many plot holes for me to truly buy in to the concept.

This may not be a deal breaker for other readers, and this book certainly had its merits. I just wish there was a little more of an investment in the details for the world-building and central premise to be fully and effectively executed.

With thanks to Berkley Books for the advanced copy. The Other Me will be published on August 10th, 2021.

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