Come With Me
Come with Me by New York Times best-selling author Helen Schulman is a granular look into the life of one family. At its core, it’s a dive into the struggles of family life, and shows us how temptation can lead us astray. But it’s also a story about the dangers of technology, about the fact that it may be harmful to know too much and have too much access to information.
Working part-time as PR for a small start-up while living in Palo Alto sounds like it could be a great way to jump-start and focus a career, but for Amy Reed, it’s just a small part of a complicated family life. Her husband Dan is a journalist who worked in print media but was laid off and has been unable to find work. Jack, her eldest son, has a girlfriend who lives out of state, but her presence has nonetheless become a staple in the day-to-day family life thanks to their ability to Facetime each other for the majority of the day. Amy’s twins, Thing One and Thing Two, are as different as night and day, with one being almost too smart for his own good and the other struggling with social norms. To top it all off, that start-up she’s working for? It’s run by her college roommate’s nineteen-year-old boy-genius son. Her boss, Donny, is hoping to move his company beyond the start-up status with a new algorithm he’s conceived which would allow people to take a peek into their ‘multiverse’- planes on which lives in which one had made alternate life choices can be played out simultaneously. He asks Amy if she’ll be his first test subject. Amy isn’t sure she trusts Donny, but the allure of discovering what could have been is strong.
Dan is faced with a crisis of his own when he meets award-winning photographer Maryam to whom he feels very strongly drawn. She offers him the chance at the story of a lifetime by travelling with her to Fukushima, Japan where they’ll cover the devastation of a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown. Maryam renews Dan’s sense of purpose and brings him the sort of excitement he hasn’t felt with Amy in a long time. Despite their explorations into what could be, both Amy and Dan are forced to confront their present when tragedy strikes close to home.
The author pulls readers into the story in a way that makes it easy to forget that it takes place over the course of just three non-consecutive but crucial days in the life of the Reed family. And maybe it’s a testament to Schulman’s skill that while there is not an adult in the Reed family I liked, I was still able to empathize (at points) with all of them.
Though the story is mainly told through Amy and Dan’s perspectives, we get to hear from each member of the family at some point. And to help move the story along, Schulman gives us stretches from the viewpoint of characters near the family as well. Characters like Donny, Jack’s best friend and his girlfriend’s mom, we get more insight into circumstances than we can get by being inside the family only.
Technology plays a huge role in the story, not just with the possibilities of Donny’s algorithm, but also with Jack constantly online with out of town girlfriend and Dan’s complete dependence on his phone or his laptop to help him see the world. In all three situations, there’s a warning that’s not heavy-handed. Barring the algorithm, each time uber-connectivity is introduced, it’s in a way that we all identify with and recognise from our own daily lives. And in every case, technology creates situations that allow the characters to escape their problems rather than face them, or complicates their lives and their choices.
The other crucial component to the story is Donny’s algorithm and the idea that one, simple choice could change the trajectory of someone’s life completely. Through this idea we can see the depths of regret that Amy carries for some of the choices she’s made in her life – such as her career path, her relationship with Dan, and even a choice concerning a child. Amy’s situation with Donny’s tech is still science fiction for us, but Dan’s choices are plausible, achievable for many who find themselves in a similar situation.
Regardless of how real or impossible the situations seem (or how much we dislike the characters for their choices), Schulman makes us empathize with both Amy and Dan’s states of mind, leaving us feeling their desperation and turmoil. I found myself feeling a bit anxious in between reading sessions, as if I’d made the decisions that could potentially destroy a family or the life I’d worked and sacrificed so hard to build.
This is a dense read and it took some time to really get into, but it slowly and very subtly turned into the sort of book that stuck with me even when I wasn’t reading it. Come with Me is a family drama for our generation, fraught with warnings for the temptations of today, as well as for the future.
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