This cover doesn’t do the book inside justice and it’s silly. Jo Walton’s My Real Children is about an 89-year-old woman with dementia. This one looks like half the covers already on the shelf – young whimsical girl looking off, having a think. Putting an 89-year-old woman on the cover of a science fiction-y novel would’ve been perfect.
Patricia is an English woman with dementia living in two worlds. Whether she’s actually living in two worlds or imagining it all is a question that’ll cut your enjoyment of this book to bits. So don’t think about it. Personally, I believe Walton’s above the ha ha it was all a dream trickery – most authors are. It’s a fascinating premise if you don’t dissect it. What if, like that 90’s movie Sliding Doors, there’s a moment in which our world splits in two? One definitive action or inaction – marry the wrong person or maybe run fast enough to catch that departing train – and your whole life will be entirely different from had you done the opposite.
What we know: In 2015 Patricia is 89 years old and possesses two sets of memories. In one life, Patricia has 4 children, in another 3. In one there’s an elevator in her senior center, in the other there’s not. In one she stays in a lousy relationship abused and repressed, in the other she declines the opportunity settle, has a career instead and falls in love with a woman.
Sounds confusing, but seeing through the POV of someone with dementia ought to be. It’s fine because we don’t stay in the present for long. We look back through this lens, but once we arrive at the turning point the chapters alternate between Pat and Patricia’s parallel lives. Time and an alternate history unfolds. What if JFK wasn’t assassinated? What if the Cuban missile crisis resulted in no more Miami or Kiev? The alternate history stuff stayed on the periphery, which surprised me as Walton has the intelligence to go as deep as she wants, but it’s a fun periphery.
Pat falls in love at an apparently critical time in history for both women and gay people in England. Married Patricia has to quit her job because at the time married women weren’t permitted to teach. Single Pat can’t get a loan to buy a house without jumping through moving hoops. The lesbian couple hides their relationship first because it’s illegal and later for fear social workers will take their children away.
Like the old woman with dementia, you have no idea which life is real and maybe they both are. This story wasn’t my favorite, but the book is well written and stayed with me for its sweeping scope. The structure opens up all kinds of doors for exploring and toying with what ifs.
The more you read, the more it feels like the author’s agenda gets in the way. We have unhappy Patricia stuck in a drab traditional life with a lousy man in a peaceful world. Then there’s glowing Pat who’s madly in love with a woman and Florence, Italy and lives as openly as she dares in a world filled with nuclear obliteration and missiles on the moon. And it was a bit laughable that England is portrayed as a innocent while the U.S., Russia and China are partying down with bombs.
Walton is a super smart author with something to say. I didn’t enjoy how she goes about trying to say it here, but I’m a fan nonetheless. Among Others is a far better book, so I’d start there if you’re in the mood. There’s a lot to like about My Real Children if you can avoid the hammer. And once again, the last chapter has got to go. I’m going to stop reading last chapters.