Have you ever wondered how your life would be altered had things turned out differently? In her fast-paced yet profound début novel, “If, Then,” Kate Hope Day explores just that.
The novel tells the stories of four people who all live in the shadow of a supposedly dormant volcano in Clearing, Ore.
It begins when Ginny, a mother and gifted surgeon, has a vision of an alternate reality in which she is in a relationship with a female coworker. Her husband, Mark, a scientist who maps the connection between geothermal activity and animal behavior, is convinced that the volcano is not dormant, and his life is altered when he sees a vision that is indicative of an impending catastrophe. Their neighbor, Samara, recently lost her mother (on Ginny’s operating table) and sees her vibrant and alive in her yard, and Cass, a brilliant scholar who left her Ph.D. program to raise her infant daughter, sees herself pregnant again when she is on the cusp of a potentially groundbreaking philosophical discovery.
As the visions become increasingly vivid and sometimes frightening, each of the characters alters their lives. Ginny begins an affair with her coworker, Edith. Mark, increasingly paranoid, builds a bunker in their backyard; Samara tries to find a way to move forward in her grief; and Cass struggles to reconcile her competing identities as both a mother and a scholar.
“If, Then,” is a totally immersive and utterly beguiling exploration of the sorts of “what-ifs” we all wonder about in life. Day uses the compelling alternate lives of these characters to show the ways in which hidden aspects of ourselves, unaddressed anxieties or simply events in life that we are unable to accept or acknowledge can leave us stuck in the same patterns.
Her novel, which privileges plot and character development over flowery prose, is unafraid to explore big ideas. Its philosophical discussions are accessible without sacrificing depth, and the struggles these characters face—navigating erotic and familial love, loss, and the question of what sort of person we want to be—are profoundly human. Day masterfully interweaves different realities and leaves readers questioning what is “true,” and what could be.
Ashley Riggleson is a freelance reviewer from Rappahannock County.