March 16, 2016

And Again - Jessica Chiarella

Touchstone, January 12, 2016.


Four Stars


And Again is a clever, conceptual novel that asks what you would do if you had a second chance to live life over. Four very different people are chosen for the pilot program of SubLife, a medical experiment that provides new, cloned bodies to replace the subjects’ damaged ones. The four patients are ordinary people, each with very different personalities – and they react to their new bodies in unique ways.


Each of the four characters had bodies that were damaged beyond repair – Hannah was in treatment for cancer, Connie was wasting away with AIDs, David had a life-threatening brain tumour, and Linda had been in an unresponsive coma for eight years. Their new cloned bodies, however, are genetically perfect, with no chance of their diseases recurring. The author doesn’t really go into details about the science behind the body-switching, so it’s necessary to suspend disbelief for that part of the story. The novel is more of an exploration of the philosophical aspects of cloning, so I wouldn’t classify it as sci-fi, despite the futuristic medical procedure.


Not only are the four subjects cured of their terminal illnesses, but the cloning has also erased all scars, blemishes and wrinkles, leaving their new bodies unmarked by their pasts. They struggle with their new appearances, but more importantly they have lost the ability to do many of the things that came naturally to their former bodies. For instance, Hannah’s identity is tied up with her career as an artist, but her new hands no longer remember how to hold a paintbrush. Chiarella has her characters question how much of our identities are formed from our physical bodies, as Hannah and the others struggle to reconcile mind and body in their new lives.


Because these characters are working to reconnect with their new bodies, much of the action occurs within their minds. However, the interactions between the four are intriguing as well – they are thrown together by circumstance and seemingly have nothing in common, but they are the only ones who truly understand what the others are going through. Each character has their own unique voice that stands out from the others, and the novel overall is very character-driven. These people are so unlikable in many ways, yet they are somehow sympathetic. It is only a brief snapshot of their lives, yet the author leaves us wanting to know more.


And Again has science fiction elements, but most of all it is a literary novel of ideas. It explores the ethical implications of a procedure such as the SubLife cloning, especially when one member of the group uses political power to gain access to the program. As a debut novel, And Again is excellent – a really original idea, executed in a new and fresh style. Without being preachy, the ideas presented make you consider what’s important in your own life – what’s left of you, without your body. Most of all, it makes you appreciate your own body, flaws and all, and how it has carried you through your own past.


I received this novel from Touchstone and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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