Title: The Effect of Living Backwards
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (2003), 2003
Publication Date: 2003
Book Condition: Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Fine
Signed: Signed By Author
Edition: First Edition.
The author's second novel. First Edition. A fine copy in a fine dust jacket. Signed by the author. This book comes from a very large collection of hypermodern first editions, most purchased at the time of publication and stored carefully in boxes. Entirely unread and virtually as new [gev]. Bookseller Inventory # 5831
Synopsis: Alice and Edith are sisters, soul mates, and archenemies.
Alice, the "good girl," is everything the stunning, wanton, and morally whimsical Edith is not. Except that both are expert manipulators-a power that is tested and exploited when the plane they are on is hijacked.
There's something decidedly strange about Bruno, one of the hijackers, not to mention his inept collaborators. When Alice is chosen to communicate with the hostage negotiator, Edith decides to take matters into her own hands by seducing Bruno. Alice finds herself growing smitten with the hostage negotiator, even as it becomes harder to distinguish her allies from her enemies in this elliptical airborne game show. When the hostages are taken to a hotel in a deserted Moroccan oasis town, Alice must confront the fact that if she wants to save herself, she will be forced to sacrifice someone she loves.
The Effect of Living Backwards is a comic, heartbreaking novel for our new and uncertain age.
Review: The Effect of Living Backwards, Heidi Julavits's second novel, is a mess--but a good mess, an ambitious mess. The title is taken from Through the Looking-Glass, and Julavits's narrator--named Alice--certainly wanders into a perplexing wonderland. She and her sister Edith are flying to Morocco, where Edith is to be married. The plane is hijacked by a charismatic, chubby blind man named Bruno. After a time, the hijacking appears to be an extended moral case study: Bruno forces his hostages to consider whether they would give their own life to save another. The hijacking, it turns out, may or may not be real; Bruno may or may not be blind; Alice may or may not be falling in love with Pitcairn, the hostage negotiator who's supposed to save them all. As she unspools her black comedy, Julavits displays a wildly discursive style; the book can seem overwritten. But as her plot gains momentum, so too does Julavits's writing, and her tortuous sentences begin to make sense: they reflect the awkward situation of the heroine. After a supper of candy and punch, Alice tells us she and her fellow hostages "suffered extreme intestinal discomfort, which made the lavatories more unspeakably filth-ridden, and tempers, whose foulness is always proportional to the decrepitude of a WC, began to fester." On one level, this is an unhappy sentence; on another, its very contortions are funny. So it is with The Effect of Living Backwards, which, in its patience-trying elegance, recalls the underrated novelist Nancy Lemann. This is a brave novel, aggressively intelligent and aggressively silly all at once. --Claire Dederer
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