Siblings Alice and Edith are en route to Edith’s wedding, from Casablanca to Melilla. Along the way, they converse about their thoughts and feelings, reminisce about their childhoods…and then, out of nowhere, it appears that the plane has been hijacked.
The players/perpetrators are Bruno, Stephen, Tom…and possibly unknown others.
But this story is not at all what it seems. In the opening paragraphs, Alice, telling this story as the first-person narrator, is at an Institute where role-playing and anti-terrorist games are the order of the day. In a Post 9/11 world, referred to throughout this book as The Big Terrible, the anti-terrorism advocates have turned to in-fighting, dividing into the Insurgents and the Brain Worms.
Thus, on Alice’s flight to Melilla, there is an aura of game-playing all around the participants: Unwilling participants who are subjected to numerous experiences which, in retrospect, may not have actually been life-threatening.
Themes of rivalry (including sibling rivalry) appear throughout the story, as do themes of questioning reality and truth. Which stories does the reader believe? Who is doing what and why? Did events unfold as we thought, or is it all the “effect of living backwards”?
In a conversation between Edith and Alice, we glean a bit more about the “experiment”:
“Talk about controlled experiment.”
“Or maybe we’re just the controlled test audience,” Edith said. “In the not too distant future—depending on our valuable feedback—people will be signing up for this sort of experiment willingly. People will pay to be hijacked, so that they can attain some transcendent, triumphant sense of resignation about their slogging, awful lives. The motto could be: No matter how far you go, there you are again. You know. Familiarity. Remember what Dad said about familiarity.”
“It breeds intent.”
“He said people don’t want new things. People don’t want to be surprised.”
As we ponder the themes, the ethical questions posed throughout The Effect of Living Backwards, we also hear the narratives of several “passengers” on the “hijacked flight.” But their versions of truth are just that…their versions. Or so we come to believe.
But what is the true story here? And how do Alice and Edith fare? What will ultimately happen, and how will each of them resolve the issues?
As a reader, I felt confused most of the time, intrigued some of the time, and quite happy to finally finish this “experiment.” Boldly contrived and brilliantly articulated, the author shows the reader her talent for philosophical issues and experiments. But I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who enjoys simply reading and understanding a story. And while I admired the effort, I didn’t enjoy it. Therefore, three stars.