Helen Schulman

A Review of Helen Schulman’s “Come with Me”

This Is Your Life

“Come with Me” Book Cover Art

Anyone has probably wondered where they might be in life if only they had made a different choice earlier within it. Well, apparently, we’re all living multiple versions of ourselves: this is called multiverse theory. Helen Schulman’s latest novel, Come with Me, is about — in part — how one person’s life might be different if only they had walked through different sliding doors. And, as it would turn out, each iteration of life is as brilliantly dazzling and utterly depressing as the one that’s already being lived by a person, in this case the character of Amy Reed, a PR flack for a Silicon Valley start-up started by the son of a former college roommate (whom we never meet — the college roommate, at least).

Amy has a fairly typical and yet paradoxically unconventional family life. She’s the sole breadwinner, as her reporter husband Dan is out of work. She has three sons — a 17-year-old boy named Jack and two younger twins named Theo and Miles. The latter are constantly getting into trouble at their school, and Jack has a virtual relationship with a young girl out in Texas — but this woman, Lily, is so close to the family that she sits down at the table for dinner with Amy and her gang via Skype. Dan, meanwhile, is carrying on an affair with a female reporter who used to be intersex and even goes to Japan with her in pursuit of a story, without informing Amy — who is utterly clueless to what’s going on. So, with this as a backdrop, her boss at work lets Amy in on an algorithm he’s developed that allows the user to look into their other lives. The how’s of this technology are a little loosely defined, but Amy is able to see other versions of her lives where she has hooked up with other men other than Dan, but continues to miscarry a daughter that she desperately wants to have.

As you can tell, there’s a lot of story in this novel, and it does jump around from character to character — and even seemingly minor characters, including a friend of Jack’s and Lily’s mother, get their due. This causes for a bit of a confusing read, and it could be argued that some of Come with Me could be winnowed down for length. Still, the cumulative effect and point of the novel seem to be that everyone in the world is a little bit depressed and not happy with their lot in life. I don’t know how true that is, but this seems to a recurring theme in any Silicon Valley writings I’ve looked at lately. The whole thrust of the book — which isn’t really sci-fi as it more literary in tone — is that technology advancement seems to breed more and more disconnectedness and dissatisfaction within people. Which is a pretty easy fish to shoot into a barrel. Do you need to read a novel to confirm this belief?

While the book is compulsively readable — it is a bit of a page-turner despite itself — it does have a liability in that all of the characters are selfish assholes in some way, and that could be a turn-off for the reader. (Even the family dog, Squidward, happens to take off of his own choosing at times.) Still, the characters are confronted with a tragedy (or, it could probably be said, multiple tragedies) that binds them together, and makes their flawed imperfections seem resilient somehow.

I also thought the book was interesting in that it shares some characteristics with a book I’ve reviewed earlier here, The Story of H. Both have intersex characters who’ve completed a transformation to a woman against the backdrop of catastrophe in Japan. Since The Story of H was originally written in Spanish, the fact that two different authors would come to devising similar characters must speak larger to the calamities of this real, unfettered world.

Still, Come with Me (which, it should be said, is named after a sexual command uttered by one of the main characters) doesn’t have much readability factor to it and the novel ends rather inconclusively — and I suppose I should say there’s a mild spoiler ahead (but can you spoil something that seems obvious to the reader from what happens early on?) whether or not Amy stays with Dan as a result of his infidelity is never really dealt with. That’s a hard decision for the character to make, and the author kind of sidesteps the issue by presenting multiple iterations of things he might say to win her back (or not) and then lets the reader more or less decide for the character.

With all of that said, I did enjoy Come with Me. Despite the particularities of the characters, I did find the novel was well written and it did usually engage my interest. (That said, I did find the Jack-Lily romance to be rather precocious, but, then again, they’re teenagers, so maybe it was meant to be that way.) While I don’t know if I’d read Come with Me ever again, it’s an enjoyable enough bon-bon of a novel about technology’s invasiveness in our lives and the untethered nature of people who populate the lives of those who are bringing that technology to market. There’s stuff here to chew on to be sure. Come with Me might be a sexual command in the context of the book, but it’s also an invitation to join in on what is ultimately flawed but interesting as far as a narrative goes. The journey, should you choose to make it, is now up to you. Decide wisely. It’s your time.

Helen Schulman’s Come with Me was published by HarperCollins on November 27, 2018.

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Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com.

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.