July 2022 Indie Next List
“Timeless! Beautifully haunting! All of the comparisons are apt — this is a modern day ‘The Lottery’ penned in gorgeous prose, with an underlying mystery that is a thrill to untangle.”
— Chelsea Berry, Bull Moose, Portland, ME
Richly emotive and darkly captivating, with elements of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and the imaginative depth of Margaret Atwood, Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin conjures a community in which girls become wives, wives become mothers and some of them, quite simply, disappear.
Vera grows up in a small town, removed and isolated, pressed up against the mountains, cloud-covered and damp year-round. This town, fiercely protective, brutal and unforgiving in its adherence to tradition, faces a singular affliction: some mothers vanish, disappearing into the clouds. It is the exquisite pain and intrinsic beauty of their lives; it sets them apart from people elsewhere and gives them meaning.
Vera, a young girl when her mother went, is on the cusp of adulthood herself. As her peers begin to marry and become mothers, they speculate about who might be the first to go, each wondering about her own fate. Reveling in their gossip, they witness each other in motherhood, waiting for signs: this one devotes herself to her child too much, this one not enough—that must surely draw the affliction’s gaze. When motherhood comes for Vera, she is faced with the question: will she be able to stay and mother her beloved child, or will she disappear?
Provocative and hypnotic, Alexis Schaitkin’s Elsewhere is at once a spellbinding revelation and a rumination on the mysterious task of motherhood and all the ways in which a woman can lose herself to it; the self-monitoring and judgment, the doubts and unknowns, and the legacy she leaves behind.
About the Author
Alexis Schaitkin is the author of Saint X. Her short stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two children.
“There is literary precedent for such a featureless world and the buffering space [“Elsewhere”] affords, in stories like Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas.” Without any signifiers of location and time, Schaitkin’s narrative seems to reach for a sense of universality, and intentionality: as though every element of this carefully crafted theater has been placed there for a reason. It’s not what “Elsewhere” elides but what it preserves from our world that is the most telling.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“I’ve been thinking about the migration of “bad” moms into speculative fiction, especially as the Supreme Court’s discarding of the constitutional right to abortion means that pregnant women will be increasingly surveilled and criminalized. [In] Alexis Schaitkin’s “Elsewhere” … What draws “the affliction” to some women but not others is unknown, but it may relate to the quality of their mothering—too reckless, too excessive, too meek, too feral.”
—The New Yorker
“Framing motherhood as an affliction might, understandably, provoke outrage. But this is one of the disarming virtues of a fantasy novel: It can confront social norms without directly appearing to do so. In her brooding second novel, “Elsewhere,” Alexis Schaitkin delves into a subgenre that might be called Domestic Dystopia, well-mined by writers like Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood.”
—The Washington Post
“‘Elsewhere,’ the new novel from Alexis Schaitkin (‘Saint X,’ 2020), is best described as a dark fairy tale, with elements of the supernatural, but with something very real to say about a topic all readers can relate to in one way or another — motherhood … It’s brief, just 223 pages, but filled with memorable lines like this that can be appreciated by mothers, fathers or anyone who has ever loved: ‘You do not get to keep what is sweetest to you; you only get to remember it from the vantage point of having lost it.’”
"Schaitkin’s writing is transcendent. Elsewhere takes the visceral experience of motherhood—all its private joys, invisible fears, personal losses, and vague sensations of being judged—and turns it inside out, weaving each element into a dark fairy tale that is wise, gorgeous, and deeply moving."
—Ali Benjamin, author of The Smash-Up
“Elsewhere is among my favorite novels of the last decade. There’s an eerie, gorgeous magic to Schaitkin’s vision that’s related to the magic of Kazuo Ishiguro and Shirley Jackson but also entirely her own. I hadn’t realized how much it would mean to me to witness an intelligence this fierce and singular, a capacity for feeling this deep, and a gift for language this extraordinary all trained on the subject of motherhood in all its wonder and strangeness.”
—Clare Beams, author of The Illness Lesson
"Elaborately imagined, ethereally detailed...In a complete departure from her debut, Saint X (2020), Schaitkin’s sophomore novel is a fabulist narrative with Shirley Jackson overtones and Margaret Atwood themes."
"Schaitkin (Saint X) returns with...great substance by digging into the complicated feelings brought on by motherhood and the judgments from others, all the while delineating the mothers’ utter joy, frustrations, and love for their children. This is a standout."
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review
"Schaitkin (Saint X, 2020) has written a compelling, poetic, and chilling novel that examines fate and fear."
—Booklist, STARRED Review
"A simply stunning work of speculative fiction. The prose is as magical as the haunting world Schaitkin creates; the story is as captivating as the prose; the characters, the imagery—flawless. The novel has social commentary and thematic strength to boot..."
—Library Journal, STARRED Review
“This is a fascinating speculative novel about the life-altering experience of motherhood that reminded me both of Shirley Jackson’s short story 'The Lottery' and Ursula K. Le Guin’s 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.' The audiobook narrated by Ell Potter is riveting.”
—Buzzfeed News, "20 Amazing New Science Fiction And Fantasy Beach Reads"
“Drawing comparisons to Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood, Alexis Schaitkin’s Elsewhere centers on Vera, a young woman who has grown up in an isolated, mysterious town where mothers often vanish into thin air.”
—Bustle, "The Most Anticipated Books Of June 2022"
“This exquisitely written work of speculative fiction has been called Shirley Jackson’s 'The Lottery' meets Margaret Atwood, and it’s one you’ll be thinking about long after its final sentence.”
—Apartment Therapy, "If You’re Going to Read One Book In June, Make It This One“
"Beautiful writing and a serious consideration of womanhood and girlhood through a gripping story."