My Real Children by Jo Walton

realYou know those books that you start reading and can’t wait to get back to every time you stop? And then when you finish you can’t stop thinking about it? This is one of those books. I found it immensely fascinating and thoughtful. It begins in the present day with an elderly woman with dementia in a nursing home. The nurses always say she is confused because the woman gets mixed up about who her children are. The thing is, the woman is remembering two different lives. How can this be? well, the story goes back to the woman’s childhood during WWII and starts her story. When she is a young woman in a pretty lousy relationship the man wants to get married and insists they do it immediately, saying “now or never.” And there her life divides, one path for saying “now”, and the other for “never.” Those two lives are extraordinarily different. ┬áThe story covers at least 50 years so things often move very quickly within a chapter, covering a few years at a time. To keep them straight one path she is known as Pat, the other Tricia. Pat and Tricia have similarities, but mostly differences. One finds love with a woman, the other is a downtrodden miserable housewife. She has children in both lifelines, but they are very different. And, fascinatingly, the world is different in each lifeline, indulging in some serious alternate history.

At the end the lines converge and there is a good comparison. But was one life better than the other? Which would she choose? There was a lot of sadness in both lives, but also many good moments. It was a great story, well told, and very thoughtful.