TBR: The Post-Birthday World

I’m trying to get back into the pattern of posting a book review on Tuesdays.  This week’s book is The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver.  The book begins with a woman in a long-term relationship having dinner with another man to celebrate his birthday, an acquaintance more than a friend.  The chapter ends with them on the verge of kissing.  The rest of the book plays out, in alternating chapters, what would happen over the next several years if they did or did not kiss.

I remember being flabbergasted by the alternate endings when I first read The French Lieutenant’s Woman in high school, but the novelty of the concept has worn off.  Shriver carries it off anyway because she spins out the alternate paths with such skill and nuance.  One of the major characters in the book is a professional snooker player (snooker is the more complicated British cousin of pool) and snooker is the implicit metaphor behind the entire book, with the three main characters bouncing off of each other and the world around them and recombining in unexpected ways.   Minor changes have huge impacts, but not always in the direction that you’d have predicted.

It’s interesting to compare this to the last book I wrote about, Arlington Park.  None of Shriver’s sentences are as elegant as Cusk’s — in fact, they tend to disappear into the woodwork.  The only individual sentence in the book I can remember is one that didn’t ring true to me, a description of the collapsing World Trade Center as resembling a deflating accordion.   But I kept reading because I wanted to see how Shriver was going to play out the game.

The Post-Birthday World isn’t as stunning, or as horrifying, as Shriver’s last book, We Need to Talk About Kevin.   But it is quite compelling in its own way.

2 Responses to “TBR: The Post-Birthday World”

  1. Kendra Says:

    SOunds like an interesting read. If you are interested in a similar type movie, I suggest “Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. It’s a great way to show how just little things can change the course of your history.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Coming back to this post to comment that a year later, this book has stayed with me in a way that I didn’t expect. I’m not entirely sure why, but it got under my skin.

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