If Sylvie Had Nine Lives is an innovative novel told in stories, each of them a marvel, fresh and surprising.
In the first story, “High Beam,” Sylvie is about to marry Jack but is distracted by Erik. It is June 1974 and every time the year advances, as it does throughout the book, there is a new map.
The maps don’t show straight lines from here to there, though. There are multiple lines fanning out from June 1974 showing many possibilities for Sylvie as she marries Jack—or, in another of her nine lives, opts not to.
Sylvie imagines “a river branching into multiples of itself, no longer a single stream but a delta. And if her life were such a delta she might let the flow take her in a direction far from the current she was in now. If only there were more Sylvies, to ride the separate streams.”
Nino Ricci is right in his cover endorsement that the book “gives us a haunting, thrilling glimpse of the slender choices our lives hang by and the tangled threads that make even the simplest of them infinite mysteries.”
The stories have a look at “if only” and “what if” with nine timeframes up to 2014. I don’t want to give away all the various possibilities as it’s a delight to come across them as you read. Here’s one: Sylvie doesn’t succumb to the advances of her roommate’s fiancé, yet we learn in another story that she did. As the narrator says: “More touch more thrill more people paying attention more of what she couldn’t even name.”
There is humor throughout, such as with the chapter “How Sylvie Failed to Become a Better Person through Yoga.” Sylvie, who lives in a Canadian university town, goes to yoga classes with her friend Will. Their teachers are Satya and Animesh. It’s amusing for the characters (as well as readers) to find out the teachers, with their particular chosen names, are from Swift Current, Saskatchewan and Gimli, Manitoba respectively.
From the beginning of the book, Sylvie often has secrets “in the bottom of her purse” as she steals things from shops. Even at the end she has this proclivity, and in her pocket “her fingers meet the pleasant surprise of a forgotten pair of pewter wishbone earrings still fastened to their plastic card.” Yet one can’t help but embrace Sylvie with her foibles, humor, and quirkiness.
In 2014, although older, Sylvie is not too old to be attracted to a man who interviews her. Another book of stories could begin here with the possibilities of staying or going, settling or reaching for further challenges and delights. As is said of Sylvie near the beginning of the book, “She wondered if she’d stumbled right past one of those moments that could send a life sideways.”