25 Books to Read Before You Die

Reviews From


Wednesday, August 6th, 2003


The Effect of Living Backwards

by Heidi Julavits

Hostility in the Sky

A review by Adrienne Miller

Heidi Julavits's second novel is one of the first truly excellent books to deal with our panicky new age. Alice and Edith, half-sisters who have a...sticky relationship, are on a Morocco-bound plane. Edith, the older, hotter, sluttier, and much, much less self-aware sister is getting married in Morocco, to the mysterious X. But the plane is hijacked by a faction of the International Institute for Terrorist Studies (Is the hijacker blind or isn't he? Is it a real gun or isn't it?), a group whose principal humiliation technique involves posing extremely thorny ethical questions to the "hostages." The Effect of Living Backwards recalls both Pynchon and Vonnegut in its absurd, paranoid surrealism, but it is also deeply invested in character especially with the ways human beings manipulate each other. The weird, crazy relationship between Alice and Edith is particularly nuanced and true horribly so ("Of course we loved each other, in a complicated manner, Edith and I, our love expressed more often than not through our attempts to confound each other, attempts that were nonetheless infused with the knowledge that we depended on each other's hostile presence to feel defined and alive"). The Effect of Living Backwards is a canny and morally probing novel, as well as a thrilling ride.

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