- Author: Jessica Chiarella
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Release Date: January 12th, 2016
- Pages: 320
And Again brings us to a place in time where immortality may be possible. Embarking on a new frontier of medicinal science, the SUBlife program combines modern medicine with advancements in stem cell research that have allowed scientists to reverse the otherwise deadly circumstances that make up the lives of Connie, David, Hannah, and Linda.
While no one truly knows what to expect when the transfer process begins, everyone is eager to escape their current reality. The SUBlife program gives these otherwise terminally ill patients a second chance at life, the chance to escape the harsh realities of aging, illness, and bad choices.
In the SUBlife procedure, patients have brain matter extracted as a basis to create a clone that is “grown” over time to match their current age. When the SUB is ready, the patient is “transferred” from their old, defective body to their pristine new one. In addition to the absence of any illness or disability, the SUB bodies are everything society expects people to be—unflawed skin, as silky smooth as a newborn baby’s, bodies that are proportionate and hold a healthy, idealistic body weight, yet they are absent of their owner’s innate habits. In their SUB bodies, the four patients cannot dream, they struggle to maintain poker faces they took years to perfect, they find that muscle memory skills are lacking and talent that previously seemed innate is absent.
Told in alternating POV chapters, Chiarella explores the complexities of both illness, recovery, and the lives that are forever altered in the process. And Again gives us characters from all walks of life, haunting realistic yet believably flawed individuals who have a common link in their illnesses and damaged lives. These characters are so well examined that you begin to feel as though they are actual people and not simply a part of Chiarella’s vast imagination.
The four SUBlife participants we meet live in Chicago and have varying backgrounds, yet their lives intertwine throughout their experience of being in the SUBlife program. Connie is the daytime soap opera actress who fell victim to the allure of heroin and contracted AIDS. David is a staunchly conservative congressman who wants to leave his adulterous ways in the past and do right by his disinterested wife and their impressionable young son. In Hannah we see a painter who can’t quite find her groove between honoring her creative, unrestrained self and becoming the idealistic girlfriend she always told herself she wanted to be for her journalist boyfriend. Finally we have Linda, the wife and mother of two who spent eight years laying paralyzed after a car crash, who’s only form of communication was blinking code for “yes” or “no” who not only has full control of her body again, but who must go home to a house full of her own kids who are strangers and a husband who in his words wants her back yet his actions treat her as though she is a misplaced piece of furniture that no longer fits the trend of their home.
The group meets weekly in SUBlife support meetings as part of their contract for entering the program. While the meetings serve as a reference point for the doctors involved int he pilot program, it serves as a weekly reminder that each of them is connected in a way that only they have experienced. Each patient has to adapt to a world that has moved on, unable to wait while they were sick, unable to forget the past and give them the truly clean slate they were hoping for. The complications of their relationships are highlighted in the foreign, misplaced anxiety that comes with their new bodies, which feel more like a new gadget than their own flesh and blood.
While the scientific implications of such a program, of the ability to erase entire diseases and reverse aging with a perfect clone of a person is astounding, what stands out the most in Chiarella’s debut novel is the implications of the power of our memories. The impenetrable need to know ourselves, to cling to our coping mechanisms, destructive habits, to our own ideas about the world. While it is easy to think that a new body, a body that is untouched by abuse, disease, mistakes could give us the jump start to a new life, a new body cannot erase the struggles that have shaped us over the years.
A hauntingly beautiful look at the beauty and consequences of both modern medicine and relationships, And Again is a novel that reads effortlessly yet lingers in your mind. Chiarella’s writing is effortlessly beautiful while evoking an unnerving sense of astonishment at all we can suffer and all we can become.