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Hannah’s Pick of the Week: The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard

The Other Valley book cover
Thus you might be a person who never had such-and-such family member; who never fancied such-and-such a relationship; who never did the things which today you’d swear are your most treasured experiences. Those things are not gone they never were. And never-weres leave no trace.Scott Alexander Howard, The Other Valley, pg. 81  

If 2023 was the year of Gothic fiction revivals (see: The Villa, A Good House for Children, etc.), then 2024 will be the year for speculative fiction, or books that play with the concept of time. Some of us appreciate the seeming straight-forwardness of a textbook, the names of codified laws; others relish when fiction writers dare to ask, “What if?” and take us down a trail of morally grey time-spaces.

In The Other Valley we watch Odile Ozanne, serious and lanky, stumble through her first year of apprenticeship. Following in her overbearing mother’s footsteps, she applies to join the vetting program for the Conseil: the protectors of the valley where she resides, and the sole arbiters of those who wish to leave. On either side of Odile’s valley lay a mirroring multitude of valleys — to the east, valleys 20 years ahead in time, and to the west, valleys 20 years behind. The rare people allowed to visit other valleys are most often in grief, cloaked in black to feign anonymity. And toward the center of Odile’s world enters Edme Pira, aspiring concert violinist, and the one who Odile has been charged with keeping an eye on after witnessing his future grieving parents watch him from afar.

Odile knows Edme’s fate and cannot help but fall for him; a fate that binds him to her. We like to feel like we understand the ramifications of altering the past; it’s a hazard we must not endure for the sake of our own selfish proclivities. And yet, who among us wouldn’t want to save someone we love, even if it means that “we” may not exist at all?  Howard expertly navigates this cause and effect, detailing choices chosen and unchosen in a way that feels natural. The science fiction themes hum in tune with the plot and the all-too-human characters, bringing out their flaws and desires in a poetic light.

For those who enjoy lilting prose paired with the speculative nature of Hilary Leichter and Toshikazu Kawaguchi, or if you would like to read about first love and time travel, I would recommend this book.
photo of Scott Alexander Howard
Photograph by Veronica Bonderud; Supplied by Simon & Schuster Publishers

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