I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.
Can one short story make or break a book? If the book in question is What If We Were Somewhere Else then my answer would be yes, the guilty story being “The Human,” but we’ll get to that later. But if I’m being honest it wasn’t just “The Human” that got me (though it was my breaking point), very few of the stories in Fox’s collection wowed me. There were a few stories I really enjoyed but honestly this book was forgettable and difficult to finish.
What If We Were Somewhere Else follows seven co-workers at an office who are laid off, showing their lives, their families, what got them to the office and what happens when they’re unemployed. The stories circles with these characters, none of whom are particularly interesting and many of whom frankly suck. That isn’t usually an issue for me when reading, I understand the need for unlikeable protagonists but a whole collection of them can be a bit much. The book has a high rating and favourable reviews elsewhere so I recognize I’m in the minority for this one, I just didn’t get it and it clearly wasn’t meant for me.
You can read my thoughts on each of the short stories below:
The Book of Names, a Spreadsheet – 2 stars
This one confused me a bit. Despite the name of the narrator (Kate) by the title the story started using, or at least sounding like it was using the collective “we”, or I guess Kate just referred to the office and workers as “we” and “ours” which, alright, I get as a way of showing how work consumes and you can feel an ownership in your work. But I was shocked when it switched to first person. If Kate’s voice had been more clear this story could have been more enjoyable.
When You Talk About the Weather – 2 stars
We follow Heather in this story who works in data at the office. This story is written in second person which is a point of view I only enjoy when it’s done really well, and it wasn’t here. I could understand where it was going with small talk and weather, I thought Heather was interesting enough in how she looked at things with her job role, but the second person just threw me off the story.
The Old Country – 2 stars
This story follows Laird, not entirely sure what his job in the office is as most of the story we follow him growing up, it’s only the end that we see Laird at the office holiday party. I kept waiting for more to happen and it just…didn’t. I did learn from this story that Kate from the first story is the boss of the office, which is something Kate should have been clearer about in the first story.
Pivot, Table – 3 stars
“Pivot, Table” introduces us to Sabine who lied on her resume to get her job in the office, and actually has a past of lying to get jobs, and lying in general. I actually enjoyed the ending of this story but it definitely took some time to get to the point of what it was about. The ending imagery was beautiful though, I wish the story had kept up the same momentum.
The Circle – 4 stars
We follow Melissa in this story, one of the newly unemployed at the office who tells readers about her time growing up in a commune. I really enjoyed this story, it was written so clearly that I could practically see the settings Fox was describing and was so curious about where it was going. Wish the earlier stories were this engaging.
The Crow – 5 stars
Meet Michael who does revenue analysis for the office. With a mix of anxiety and finding oneself suddenly in adulthood, this was a story I really enjoyed. I could really feel for Michael’s character and really enjoyed learning about his life which I haven’t been able to say for most of the office workers in this collection. So far my favourite story in the collection.
Not Us – 2.5 stars
Let’s follow Christian, the IT guy at the office who’s been engaged three times and married and divorced twice. Good descriptions of wedding cake and a lot of great colour imagery but otherwise forgettable as we see the beginning of the end of Christian’s second marriage. Hoping there’s a story in here from his first ex-wife’s Rachel’s perspective, since they both used to work in the office together apparently.
Tornado Watch – 2.5 stars
Boss Kate gets another story. All in all it’s pretty simple, with a divorce and losing her job there’s a lot of change in Kate’s life and it’s up to the reader to decide whether or not she’s coping with it well. Not bad but I still feel like I don’t know Kate very well.
The Empathy Chart – 3 stars
We’re back to Heather which means we’re back to second person narration. I enjoyed this story a lot more than “When You Talk About the Weather” but I’m still not crazy about Heather. I liked more detail on her character but still, she isn’t very interesting and I had some trouble caring for what was happening in her story. Also why do so many people in this office cheat on their spouses?
Wish in the Other – 5 stars
We’re back to Laird and despite me really disliking his first story this one really knocked it out of the park. I felt so much for Laird, loved the comparisons that were being drawn between the Oregon boys and Cale. An excellent story that kept my interest.
Pivot, Feather – 2.5 stars
Back to Sabine again. I’m not going to lie, I wish we weren’t circling through the same characters. Sabine’s two stories could have easily been put together. I liked her more in this story but there was a lot of repetition from “Pivot, Table.”
The Center of the Circle – 2.5 stars
Back to Melissa. Not as interesting as “The Circle,” again these two stories could have easily been combined instead of having to circle (ha) back to the characters.
The Human – 1 star
I’m sorry but what the hell was this? No seriously, what the hell was this? This story came completely out of left field and made me so angry I can hardly stand it. We’re back to Michael but IN THE FUTURE AND MICHAEL IS FIFTY AND BEING FORCE TO COLONIZE THE MOON?! YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT! A PLOT POINT THAT WASN’T HINTED AT OR FORESHADOWED AT ALL IN THIS SHORT STORY COLLECTION AND NOW IT’S SUDDENLY A SCI-FI NIGHTMARE? AGAIN, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS STORY?!
Not Me – 1 star
Back to Christian who I immensely dislike. This story also made no sense because it also takes place in the future where Christian has an affair with Michael’s younger sister Leah. Again, what the hell?
More Terrible Ways to Make a Living – 1 star
We end with Kate despite her being intensely uninteresting to read about. Not much to say about her except that reader’s seemingly return to the original timeline of the collection with hints that Kate had some part in the moon colonization program. I don’t know.
Publication: November 1st 2021
Publisher: Sante Fe Writer’s Project
Pages: 192 pages (Paperback)
Source: The Next Best Book Club (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary, Sci-fi (APPARENTLY)
My Rating: ⛤⛤
“What If We Were Somewhere Else is the question everyone asks in these linked stories as they try to figure out how to move on from job losses, broken relationships, and fractured families. Following the employees of a nameless corporation and their loved ones, these stories examine the connections they forge and the choices they make as they try to make their lives mean something in the soulless, unforgiving hollowness of corporate life. Looking hard at the families to which we are born and the families we make, What If We Were Somewhere Else asks its own questions about what it means to work, love, and age against the uncertain backdrop of modern America.”