Diane Awerbuck reviews Sarah Lotz’s ‘Impossible’
“It reads like Nora Ephron and Ursula le Guin cracking each other up at the bar,” writes Diane Awerbuck of Sarah Lotz's new novel Impossible
There’s a time and a place for everything, but for Nick and Bee’s emotional affair, this is not the era. Sarah Lotz’s new novel, Impossible, is primarily a story about a love that cannot be acted on — but not for the usual reasons.
The two meet online by accident — Nick sends a caustic payment query to a client that mistakenly goes to Bee’s email address — and they fall into the kind of banter that in feel-good films often leads to love. “Sapiosexual” is the poncy word we use about feeling attracted to another person’s mind, but it’s all these two initially have. They make the most of it, until their intimate, jokey chat (only ever over email) becomes the highlight of their days.
When Bee and Nick decide to take the next step of a real-life meetup, things get Back to the Future-type complicated. Time, says Lotz, stretches like elastic into the future, “only elastic has a way of snapping back at you”. For Bee and Nick, being friends is more important than being lovers, until their relegation to the ultimate friendzone becomes unbearable.
It gets worse. Once Nick realises that he and Bee occupy similar but slightly warped versions of each other’s universes, he is hounded by The Berenstain Society, a self-elected investigation group with definitive proof that there are other dimensions. He realises that the society's main work is maintaining a rigid separation between the timelines (and their doppelgängers) in “the mesh” — which is a disaster for the two would-be lovers.
Lotz reminds us that it’s the capacity to play that keeps us with our friends or our partners — it’s what we mean when we talk about “the spark” that animates a satisfying connection. Though her hand is light, the other themes are heavy: how we deal with loneliness, displacement, intimacy, memory and experience inside our heads and with other people.
How does she do it? Every successive novel is fantastic — supremely clever but also terribly kind, and it’s a rare combination. Impossible is the consummation of these aspects of Lotz’s work, and it reads like Nora Ephron and Ursula le Guin cracking each other up at the bar. It tickles me to think of the mainstream readers who are getting a decent dose of science fiction, and liking the experience.
It’s all good sense, too, and an ode to the nice bits about being British. Lotz names the novel’s sections after romcoms (“Notting Hell”, “Love Actually Sucks”), and there are constant pithy sideswipes from both main characters, but her main lesson is succinct and universal: Don’t wait. For everyone who’s ever felt that they’ve met The One but can’t be with them in the flesh, this book is your wedding song in a world where you aren’t only possible, you are destined to be together.