People collide A novel

Isle McElroy

Book - 2023

"From the acclaimed author of The Atmospherians-"a Fight Club for the Millennial Generation" (Mat Johnson)-a gender-bending, body-switching novel that explores marriage, identity, and sex, and raises profound questions about the nature of true partnership"--

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FICTION/Mcelroy Isle
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Queer fiction
New York : HarperVia 2023.
Main Author
Isle McElroy (author)
First edition
Physical Description
pages cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Maintaining the excellent standard of their superb debut, The Atmospherians (2021), McElroy present a magical realist novel in which Eli, a bumbling, aspiring writer, resides in a small and unhomey apartment in Bulgaria with his much more successful wife, Elizabeth, who holds a temporary teaching position there. One morning he wakes up to find he now inhabits Elizabeth's body and that Elizabeth, whom Eli presumes is inhabiting his body, has disappeared. As Eli comes to terms with his new body, he struggles to perform at being Elizabeth. As Eli flies around Europe trying to find his wife in his body, the novel is reminiscent of Ben Lerner's Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), and some scenes read like contemporary updates to the surreal grotesques of Nikolai Gogol, especially "The Nose." Elizabeth's wealthy, well-meaning, but overbearing parents brilliantly capture how well-intended people fail to see their own privilege. Compelling, hilarious, and thought-provoking, this is a fascinating Freaky Friday-like thought-experiment that questions the performance and expectations of gender roles, the body-mind puzzle, how class can define a person's perspective, and the definition of identity.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In the engrossing latest from McElroy (The Atmospherians), a couple's stagnant marriage is enlivened after the husband wakes up in his wife's body. When Elizabeth, a writer and academic, receives a teaching fellowship, she and her husband move from the U.S. to Bulgaria. There, she goes to work every day, while Eli, who is also a writer, grows increasingly unhappy ("Marriage had melted our days into one warped single day, like a wax statue burned to a blob," he muses). Their routine is shaken when Eli realizes one morning that he has somehow come to inhabit Elizabeth's body and sets out to determine what happened to his own body, and to Elizabeth. A comedy of errors ensues, fueled by the question of whether the couple will reunite and whether Eli will be able to change back, as Eli-as-Elizabeth follows his wife's trail to Paris. It would be a spoiler to reveal how Eli's change impacts the marriage, but McElroy deserves credit for an imaginative and no-holds-barred exploration of Eli's gender and sexuality after the change (during a sex scene in a museum bathroom, Eli remarks on "the voice of my own desire cleansed of all inhibitions"). It's an impressive twist on the familiar trope of marital ennui. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

What happens when a man finds himself trapped in his wife's body? Eli and his wife, Elizabeth, are in Bulgaria, sharing a cramped studio while Elizabeth completes a prestigious though underpaid fellowship teaching American culture at a nearby school. One day, Eli leaves the apartment to visit Elizabeth in her classroom and discovers that somehow his mind is now inhabiting her body. His body, with Elizabeth presumably inside it, is missing. So begins Eli's Kafka-meets-Freaky Friday journey to find his wife, all the while figuring out how to live inside her body. Much of the book's brilliance is found in McElroy's explorations of Eli learning to inhabit this new body, a body he'd once been familiar with, he'd interacted with and observed but finds uncanny to suddenly be. When Eli crosses his arms, he's struck by how "unfamiliar it [feels] to hold Elizabeth as Elizabeth." He misses his wife desperately, but considers how it isn't necessarily her body he longs for (he now has a very intimate relationship with it, after all), but rather the "peculiar ways Elizabeth carried her body, for the feeling of looking up to see her across the room, knowing she was separate but with me." Chapters occasionally switch to an omniscient third-person narrator who gives more insight into Elizabeth, showing how different perspectives, different bodies, offer multiple interpretations of shared realities. Occasionally, the novel seems like it falters--plot points and characters feel somewhat random, and high-tension moments are interrupted before reaching catharsis--but McElroy always manages to throw a new, exciting wrench into the puzzle before the pacing has had time to slow down too much. A creative, well-written exploration of marriage, gender, and desire. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.