Familiar by J. Robert Lennon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If Robert Lennon looks more bald than in his earlier PR shots, it's probably through tearing his hair out reading reviews like many of those here, decrying that he has failed to create a linear narrative that comes to a clear conclusion. "But what happens in the end?" they fume. To ask the question is to miss the point. (Besides, Lennon does provide an ending – at least a possible one – on the penultimate page. But it's all in brackets and isn't the final word, so presumably that's not good enough. I'd question whether he even needs to give his readers that much.)
In Familiar, Elisa slips into an alternative reality where everything is the same but slightly different: her son Sam has failed to emerge from his brother's malignant shadow, she and husband Derek aren't having affairs (a creepy therapist is now the interloper), her job has changed and a woman she despised is now her best friend. Oh, and her son Silas hasn't spent the last ten years dead.
The title, of course, is a play on words, because the sci-fi plot is a device to tackle the real issue in Elisa's life: how to make sense of her spectacularly dysfunctional family. Her existential crisis exists in both universes, only in a different form. One is drawn to the conclusion that the answer to the question 'where did I go wrong?' is that it doesn't matter. What was wrong was always you. If you didn't make this cock-up you'd have made a different one. You might have taken a different route you took to your personal disaster and hurt different people along the way, but the result is the same. Silas's survives at the cost of Sam's psychological collapse.
Lennon could point his detractors to something Silas says in one of his posts to a gaming newsgroup, "Designers are stuck on the notion of story. Life is inherently nonsensical. Drawing strands of meaning together is for idiots."
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