This book! I’m not even sure what to say! I’m a pretty simple reader who loves books but doesn’t have a very ‘sophisticated palate’ when it comes to writing. This book, however, is absolutely beautifully written and even a neophyte like me can tell! The message in this book is powerful, the writing evocative and the structure intricate. I definitely plan to read The Archive of Alternate Endings at least twice (and I’m not a re-reader) just because I know that there is more to get out of it that I wasn’t able to grasp the first time!
Drager chooses, for her structure, the years past and future on which Halley’s comet passes closest to Earth. She imagines the past happenings during those years and fictionalizes historically-based stories from the lives of Johannes Gutenburg, Edmond Halley, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Ruth Coker Burke. The book has two themes: the story of Hansel and Gretel and homosexuality. While those may not seem to be themes that naturally play well together, she weaves both of them into the book in such seamless and amazing ways that the potential dissonance between considering a fairy tale and pondering sexual orientation is completly eradicated.
It’s almost impossible for me to explain how beautiful this book is. It’s one of those books that almost limits itself to the recommendation, ‘Really…just read it! Then you’ll understand what I mean!’ I learned a great deal from the content of this book…about Halley’s Comet, about fairy tales and about the AIDS epidemic. I also had an opportunity to feel deeply: while the book jumps back and forth between characters, settings and time periods, every combination is more redolent with emotion than the next!
At only 168 pages, this book can be read quickly but I found myself returning over and over to particularly poignant passages. Here’s an example: ‘We are quick to say that folktales have a moral or a lesson or a creed. But most of the stories that have survived the ages are told for one purpose only, and that purpose is to say this: “Being human is difficult. Here is some evidence.”‘
I would unequivocally recommend this book to anyone who appreciates being challenged to think or who greatly admires beautiful writing. Even if you don’t consider yourself amongst those two groups, I would challenge you to give The Archive of Alternate Endings a try. If you aren’t charmed, or moved or intellectually stimulated by what you read, I’ll eat my hat!
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