photo by Elly Schaefer
by Andrew DeCanniere
A little while ago, I came across Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel, Maybe in Another Life (Washington Square Press, 2015). The book is centered around 29-year-old, cinnamon roll loving Hannah Martin, who, after having graduated from college, has found herself moving from city to city, from unfulfilling job to unfulfilling job. One night, shortly after returning to her hometown of Los Angeles after many years away, she finds herself potentially reconnecting with her old boyfriend, Ethan — though she is torn as to whether she should stay out with him, or go home with her best friend, Gabby… and it is here that the story really takes off, exploring each potential path. Last week, I had the chance to discuss this highly relatable, eminently readable novel with Taylor. Read on to see what she had to say about her inspiration for the book, fate and circumstance, the multiverse theory, her influences and more.
UR Chicago Magazine: So, first of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed your book. I thought it was such a great read. What was your inspiration for the book in the first place? How did it come about?
Taylor Jenkins Reid: Thank you so much! I got the idea for Maybe in Another Life sometime during my drafts of After I Do. I have always been fascinated by the balance of fate and chance and I wanted to do something that looked at them using parallel universes. Once I found out parallel universes have some scientific credibility, I started learning how it works and knew I had to write a book about it.
UR: One of the things that I found so relatable about your book had to do with some of the themes that run throughout. There’s the whole thing of family — or, perhaps more accurately, family dynamics — the struggle to find one's place in the world, and the desire (or struggle, as the case may be) to find a place that truly feels like home.
Did you always know that you wanted to tackle these kinds of larger issues? It seems to me these are kind of fairly common, but can sometimes be all too rarely discussed.
TJR: Yes, I think that's true. I think everyone goes through a period of time in which they have more questions about their life than they have answers. I figured, if we are going to delve into a story about "what if," then asking that question using a character that is always searching for something is an interesting way to explore it. She is trying to decide where to live, what to do, who to be, who her support system is, and who she loves. And because there is so much she doesn't know, the reader gets to explore the answers to those questions in two universes. If Hannah knew who her true family was, if she felt like she belonged and knew her place in the world, there would be so much less at stake with every decision she makes. So I chose to focus on a period of time in Hannah's life that most people can relate to, which is that period of time when you're trying to find yourself.
UR: Another thing that I found really interesting is that, early on in the book, Hannah says "Life is long and full of an infinite number of decisions. I have to think that the small ones don't matter, that I'll end up where I need to end up no matter what I do." And, to a certain extent, that's very true. At the end of the book, no matter which path Hannah follows, A or B, it is arguable that she ends up where, in the context of the situation, she needs to be (or, at the very least, where she feels she ought to be).
Yet, what I thought was particularly compelling is that, depending on how you look at it, it can be precisely some of these seemingly "inconsequential" decisions that determine the course her life ends up taking. So, while some of the choices we end up making in life really are essentially inconsequential, some others have more consequence than we can possibly know at the time. Therefore, I was wondering what your take on it may be. Is it more our own choices / the decisions we make or fate / the circumstances of our lives that determines where we end up and how things work out in our lives?
TJR: There’s certainly a lot to discuss and unpack. I think the big thing to know about Hannah, and by extension the book, is that what Hannah thinks about fate is not necessarily in line with the stance that the book takes on fate. For instance, in both scenarios Hannah has a firm opinion on the trajectory of her life and how much destiny is involved in it, but, because we know both scenarios, we know that Hannah's point of view, while relatable, isn't exactly accurate. And I wrote it that way because I don't want to inform the reader very much about any one opinion about fate. I want to leave the events in the book up for debate. So often our own life experiences shade how we read fiction and I'm very much hoping that different people read this book and come to different conclusions about both what the book is saying and what they believe to be true to life.
The one thing I will say is that whether you believe in fate or not, every single decision you make forms the story of your life. And you can either choose to be aware of that or ignore it. I think both ways make sense and I'd guess most people – like myself – have found a balance between the two.
UR: I also thought, speaking of fate versus the choices we make, that the whole multiverse theory is so fascinating. I thought you could perhaps discuss a little about how you found out about it in the first place, and what it is.
TJR: This stuff is truly, truly fascinating. I feel like it is perfectly summarized by Stephen Hawking's reaction to Zayn leaving 1D. He told a group of fans, "One day there may well be proof of multiple universes … and in that universe Zayn is still in One Direction." If Stephen Hawking believes there is a possibility the multiverse exists, then that's good enough for me. Once you open yourself up to that possibility, I think the universes than you imagine being out there speak to your innermost desires. I always say that if there are infinite universes in which everything that is possible has happened, that means that there is one universe out there where I am the reigning queen of pop, my own version of Beyonce. And that leaves me free to be a writer in this life. Because somewhere out there, there's another me, killing it on stage. And the inverse of that is that there is a universe out there where I have lost people I love, and that makes me cherish this one all the more.
Believing in many universes is really a starting point for so much self-reflection and understanding.
UR: In the book, Hannah entertains, if not accepts, the notion that perhaps she and Ethan were meant to be together. As such, I was wondering what your take on the concept of soulmates may be. Is there such a thing as people who are meant for each other or fated to be together?
TJR: You know, the book has a firm opinion on that and I don't want to give away the ending. All I will say is that Hannah's opinion is sometimes at odds with what the book shows you to be true. And other times it falls right in line. The dichotomy between what Hannah believes is happening and what the reader knows is happening, is the thing that I am most proud of in the book.
UR: Who would you say are your literary influences? Do you have any books that you'd like to recommend, whether they are newly discovered or old favorites?
TJR: I’m a big fan of J. Courtney Sullivan, Steve Martin, Madeline Miller, Amy Hatvany, Jen Lancaster, Cheryl Strayed, and what feels like a thousand other authors. In the case of this book, my inspiration was much more non-fiction based. I read a lot about story and myth in the work of Joseph Campbell. I read some of Stephen Hawking's work. And, of course, I re-watched Sliding Doors because it's such a perfect example of parallel universe storytelling.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. For additional information, visit her website at www.taylorjenkinsreid.com. You can also find her on Twitter @tjenkinsreid or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/taylorjenkinsreidbooks.
This interview originally appeared in Chicago Splash Magazine.