I’ve long admired Leona Theis’s nonfiction and often recommend it to others. She’s always doing something interesting with structure or point of view. Her recent novel in stories, If Sylvie had Nine Lives, shows similar strengths. The conceit is simple. Each chapter follows the protagonist, Sylvie, on one of her possible life paths—a bit like a “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Except Sylvie’s adventures are complex, funny, sharply observed, sometimes heartbreaking, and always beautifully written. I found myself rooting for her in all her mutually inconsistent incarnations— reluctant yogi, new wife, guilty widow, divorcée, businesswoman, grieving daughter, university prof, loving and sometimes irritated parent and grandparent. Sexy, self-deprecating, prone to lousy choices, and full of spit and vinegar, Sylvie’s a character to grow with.
This book will appeal to anyone who sometimes wonders what would have happened if they’d chosen a different path. Married, or stayed unmarried. Studied pure math instead of medicine. Moved to Japan instead of Ottawa, crashed the car instead of swerving at the last minute, inherited the family heart condition rather than escaping it. It will also speak to anyone who’s spent any time at all in the Canadian prairies. The landscapes and small towns there are evoked with such affection and precision.
Susan Olding is the author of Big Reader: Essays, and Pathologies: A Life in Essays. She lives and writes in the traditional territories of the Lekwungen and W_ SÁNEC´ nations, in Victoria, British Columbia.