Kate Hope Day’s If, Then is one of those books with a super interesting synopsis that promises to engage the reader in a gripping story that asks deep and meaningful questions. I’m not always interested in reading that sort of thing, as I generally enjoy books that aren’t quite so cerebral. Still, I’ve often found myself wondering what my life might have been like if I had made this or that choice differently, so I decided to give this a try.
The synopsis is deceptively simple. Four people living in a sleepy mountain town at the foot of an inactive volcano begin to question their sanity as they each begin experiencing strange visions of parallel realities. At first, the visions seem harmless, the kinds of things anyone might catch themselves imagining every now and again, but it soon becomes apparent that something more sinister is at work, threatening the safety of all of the town’s residents.
Ginny is a successful surgeon who sometimes puts the demands of her job before the needs of her husband and children. It’s not that she doesn’t love her family, but there’s something so empowering about her life inside the hospital, and, in some ways, she thinks her patients need her more than her family does. One evening, as Ginny is preparing to leave home to perform an emergency surgery, she is startled by a vision of one of her co-workers. The woman is lying comfortably in Ginny’s bed, beside Ginny’s husband, and Ginny has no idea what to make of what she’s seeing. Is it possible she’s having a stroke or maybe even a psychotic break – or could it be that the man she loves is having an affair?
Ginny’s husband Mark works as an environmental scientist. Lately, he’s been studying the behavior of animals just before natural disasters occur, fascinated by what he believes the world could learn from animals about survival, and he’d like nothing better than to obtain funding to continue his research. But when he begins seeing flashes of an unnamed disaster sweeping down from a nearby mountain, he becomes increasingly paranoid, and everything he loves is suddenly at risk.
Samara is a successful real estate agent, struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her beloved mother. She knows her mother would want her to pick up the pieces of her life and continue with the real estate business they started together, but Samara seems to have lost her love for it. Instead, she spends her days sorting through her mother’s belongings, and engaging in negative self-talk. And then, she begins imagining her mother is still alive, living a completely different life from the one Samara always knew.
Cass has devoted her life to the study of philosophy. True, she had to take some time away from her studies when she got pregnant with her first child, but her baby is now old enough to start attending daycare, and Cass is eager to re-immerse herself in her textbooks. There’s something very comforting about the scholarly texts she reads, and she just knows she’s on the verge of discovering something great, something that will forever change the way students study philosophy. And then, she sees a vision of herself heavily pregnant for a second time, and she wonders if life as a scholar is really what’s in store for her.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of these four very different people. Unfortunately, the chapters are short, and I found the constant switching from one narrator to another rather jarring. I would no sooner get caught up in one person’s story than the focus would switch to someone else, and this made the story hard to follow. Longer chapters would have gone a long way towards making this an easier read.
I never felt like I knew any of the characters well. They’re all extremely passionate about certain things in their lives, but the author doesn’t develop them beyond those passions. Ginny is dedicated to her patients, and that’s the only thing that stands out about her. They felt more like cardboard cut-outs than three-dimensional people I could care about and believe in.
The plot itself was interesting, but the lack of character development made it difficult for me to fully engage with the story. It simply did not live up to my expectations, and I’m not able to recommend it.