Science-fiction novels are often about society-shaking changes with worldwide implications. Chicagoan Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel “And Again,” focuses on less-lofty, but no less significant, aspects of this premise. While the topics of identity, transhumanism, and possible immortality are all raised ever so briefly in this novel about cloning, “And Again” is an intimate work that explores the personal repercussions of an FDA trial for a medical procedure that transfers the minds of four terminally ill patients into new, genetically perfect bodies.
Chiarella focuses largely on questions of character. How should the artist Hannah react to a boyfriend who was absent in what might have been her last days? What does she think when she finds her new body has none of the skills of her old one? Can David, the cheating Republican congressman, reform himself and be a faithful husband when he no longer has a brain tumor to worry about? These questions are fascinating, but the most intriguing parts of the book involve Linda, who had an accident that left her immobile and mute for eight years. She has two children who weren’t raised by her and a distant husband who left her in a nursing home. Her interactions with the world are utterly alien. The depiction of her “miracle” is filled with feelings of trepidation and isolation that make her the most compelling character.
Unlike the newly reborn bodies of its characters, “And Again” has a few blemishes. The plot isn’t as strong as the characters, with beats that unfold exactly as readers will expect. The character of Connie, a sarcastic fallen actress whose wit brings something special to the quartet’s trial-mandated support-group meetings, does not have an arc or character relationships that justify her being a point of view character. However, the other three protagonists make up for what her narrative lacks. Despite a few imperfections, this literary science-fiction hybrid offers flawed characters messing up their second chances, providing us with rich drama. (Brendan Buck)
By Jessica Chiarella
Simon & Schuster, 320 Pages, $25.99
Toni Nealie is the Literary Editor of Newcity and the author of the essay collection “The Miles Between Me.” A Pushcart Prize nominee, her essays have appeared in Guernica Magazine, Rust Belt: Chicago, The Rumpus, The Offing, Essay Daily, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, Entropy and elsewhere. She worked in magazine journalism, politics and PR in her native New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Singapore and now edits, writes and teaches in Chicago. Find her at toninealie.com and on Twitter @tnealie. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.