If you’re the kind of reader who particularly enjoys the idea of stories intersecting and connecting, this one’s for you. If you would have enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge just as much if the stories had appeared all jumbled. And, if you loved the film Sliding Doors and the concept behind Bandersnatch.
Because Leona Theis begins with Sylvie and spirals outwards, affording readers line-of-sight on the key figures in Sylvie’s life as key events and decisions are highlighted, so that the stories that follow might move down different forks in the road from those points. And, even further down the road, the original forks might be more or less identifiable, as subtle slips or flipped switches.
Readers need to be consistently engaged to recognize the delicate crafting at work here. Whereas Olive Kitteridge, for instance, moves on a single timeline but shifts points-of-view; If Sylvie Had Nine Lives maintains Sylvie’s perspective but tumbles into multiple timelines (with the other characters rising or falling in importance, depending on the possible outcomes). It’s not that it’s complicated; it’s that the joy resides in the discrepancies, the possibilities—if you’re not paying attention, you might miss something amazing. (Which is kinda the whole point.)
Here’s how it works—without mentioning any relationships, even though those possibilities are the most fun to trace. In more than one story, Sylvie works in the basement of the campus library. In the second story, set in 1974, she details the process of binding a year’s worth of journals. In some stories, this job appears to have been a stepping stone into a career; in still others, it appears in the background, a between-things job that barely registers years later. (I want to tell you all the things. But I won’t.)
That’s how it works mechanically. But beyond the mechanism, there are many supporting details. Regardless of how that early work experience plays out in Sylvie futures, the way that Theis details the process of binding is significant. Because ‘binding’ is ‘connecting’, right? Also, along the way, Theis gently nudges us into thinking about how the past and present relate in more immediate ways, like the “whiff of last night’s popcorn”, for instance. The stories would be enjoyable without recognizing these flourishes, but they do bring an extra layer of satisfaction to the discovery process. It builds trust in her storytelling, which is important because that remains consistent even while so much changes in these scenarios.