Reviews for Elsewhere

by Alexis Schaitkin

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Schaitkin (Saint X) returns with the profound story of a remote mountain village defined by the routine disappearances of mothers. Vera, 16, helps her widower father run the town’s photoshop. As she and her peers traverse the thorny path of adolescence, they’re all too aware of the possible fate waiting for them that plagued their mothers, all of whom vanished when they were little girls for no clear or consistent reason (whenever a mother disappears, others assume it was due to her overprotectiveness, neglect, or some other parental sin). Then a stranger named Ruth visits from “elsewhere,” and her presence in town makes the residents both prideful and self-conscious about their lives. Before they force Ruth to leave, she plants a seed in young Vera’s mind: “You could leave this place.” Several years later, Vera becomes a mother, and Ruth’s words resonate with her as she becomes increasingly attached to her daughter and realizes she may be on the verge of disappearing. A surprising and poignant development later prompts her to reflect that “You do not get to keep what is sweetest to you; you only get to remember it from the vantage point of having lost it.” Schaitkin gives the goings-on great substance by digging into the complicated feelings brought on by motherhood and the judgments from others, all the while delineating the mothers’ utter joy, frustrations, and love for their children. This is a standout. (June)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In a mountainous, isolated town reminiscent of a German village, some mothers vanish into thin air. When a mother disappears, the villagers come together in a ceremony to burn all the woman’s photographs and share the rest of her possessions among them. Vera’s mother disappeared when she was very young, and she’s alone with her taciturn father. Her best friend has become distant, and Vera’s violin playing and interest in photography are the only things that comfort her. When a stranger arrives, someone from elsewhere, Vera’s worldview changes. Until then, Vera had assumed she would join the mothers, since she longs for the tradition of marriage and parenthood. But the events of the stranger’s appearance change her, and she will never be the same. Schaitkin (Saint X, 2020) has written a compelling, poetic, and chilling novel that examines fate and fear. The town’s unique and eerie culture indoctrinates its people, but Vera moves through this environment with both doubt and confidence. The mothers’ disappearances are also a metaphor for the pain and pleasure that come with motherhood itself. Suggest to readers of Jessamine Chan’s School for Good Mothers (2022).

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Schaitkin's first novel, Saint X, buzzed big in 2020 and was on multiple "best of" lists; Hulu is now casting and producing an eight-episode adaptation of the novel. Her second book is a simply stunning work of speculative fiction. The prose is as magical as the haunting world Schaitkin creates; the story is as captivating as the prose; the characters, the imagery—flawless. The novel has social commentary and thematic strength to boot. The story focuses on Vera, who moves from girlhood to adulthood in an ethereal fairy tale-like village that's separated from "elsewhere." Its small population does not see any outsiders. The villagers lead generally peaceful, simple lives but suffer from an "affliction" where mothers often vanish, seemingly at random, from families who awaken in the morning to find their mother is simply—poof—gone. This novel is, at its core, a commentary and psychological exploration of motherhood, as readers follow Vera through parenting's tender highs and most gut-wrenching, self-doubting lows. VERDICT Schaitkin's sophomore novel channels early Margaret Atwood, a magical, otherworldly story certain to be on plenty of 2022 "best of" lists.—Beth Liebman Gibbs

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In a remote fairy-tale town where mothers keep disappearing, one young woman makes a run for it. “How does a motherless mother mother? How does she know how, or does she simply not know?...I reminded myself it wasn't true I was motherless. I had a mother.” Like all the children in her foggy, vaguely Alpine village, Vera was just a girl when her mother literally vanished into thin air. The same thing had just happened to her best friend, Ana, the week before, but for reasons Vera will never understand, this commonality ends their friendship rather than cements it. In a complete departure from her debut, Saint X (2020), Schaitkin’s sophomore novel is a fabulist narrative with Shirley Jackson overtones and Margaret Atwood themes; other writers working in this vein include Sophie Mackintosh, Leni Zumas, and Claire Oshetsky. The author devotes a good bit of time to worldbuilding, filling in the sights, smells, foods, and customs of the town, from the creamery where doe’s milk is made into cheese to the Alpina Hotel, where Vera’s father takes her and her friends for tea every year on her birthday and local newlyweds get a night in the honeymoon suite. Despite the many spooky aspects of life in the village, an unstated prohibition against leaving has seemingly been effective so far. Though she feared she might spend her life as a spinster, working beside her father in the town’s photography shop, Vera ends up a wife and then a mother, finding more passion in these roles than she dreamed possible. But one day, she sees that her image is blurred in a photo from her daughter's birthday party; soon after, she loses control of her hands. Knowing “the affliction” is upon her, she bolts. Vera’s Rumspringa stretches out about a decade, it seems, motored by dream logic through a series of weird situations whose allegorical import is unclear. Thankfully, the road eventually doubles back to questions left open in the village, some of which are answered. An elaborately imagined yet not quite satisfying fable of loss and isolation. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.