Contemporary Novels

COME WITH ME by Helen Schulman

COME WITH ME is a novel about the “many-worlds” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that was originally proposed by physicist Hugh Everett in the 1950s. This is the idea that every decision we make splits off an alternate reality–in other words, all possibilities exist simultaneously, each in its own parallel universe.

What’s remarkable is that Helen Schulman has explored these ideas in a completely mainstream novel that is set in the present-day consensus reality of one disintegrating family. Amy is living the humiliation of working for her college roommate’s 19-year-old son at a start-up tech company. But she’s got to keep the money coming in; her journalist husband, Dan, is melting down because he can’t find a job, and they have three kids to raise. Jack, the oldest, is completely obsessed with his long-distance girlfriend. His twin younger brothers (with the Seussian nicknames “Thing 1” and “Thing 2”) have their own problems. Theo is being bullied and Miles spends every possible moment playing Magic: The Gathering.

It quickly becomes apparent that all the characters are either living in alternate worlds (Jack is on FaceTime 24/7; a trans woman, Maryam, has had her body surgically altered to match her true gender) or contemplating life-disrupting changes, either in the past (Amy’s miscarriage) or future (Dan’s growing obsession with Maryam). Along the way we get highly relevant side trips into virtual reality programming, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, teen suicide, and much more.

I confess that I did not approach the novel with my left brain, tracking all the correspondences. The characters are too sympathetic and richly drawn, the writing too hypnotic. Instead I enjoyed it like a piece of music, listening to the echoes everywhere, like guitars drenched in reverb. The repeated invitations from one character to another to “come with me.” The many turning points, the roads not taken, the piling up of consequences.

In the end, Schulman herself backs away from a strict scientific interpretation, and instead follows her heart, choosing to believe that some things are, after all, meant to be. And I’m glad I came with her.