My Real Children
by Jo Walton
Cover Artist: Lamprakou / Trevillion Images
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765332653
Date: 20 May 2014 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
My Real Children by Jo Walton is almost a mainstream literary novel. While it certainly has aspects of alternate history and parallel worlds, these are mostly background elements. The main story, which is beautifully written, is the domestic life of a woman in two parallel worlds--one where she is a mother and occasional teacher with an unhappy marriage and one where she is a writer of guidebooks about Italy who has a female lover.
The book opens in 2015 with Patricia Cowan in an old age home in England with memory problems. She sometimes remembers having four children, sometimes two; she sometimes thinks the nursing home has a lift and others not. She remembers Kennedy being assassinated with a bomb, but also remembers a nuclear exchange destroying Kiev and Miami. Books disappear when she puts them down. While she is having problems with her memory and cannot always remember things told to her or even the date, something more may be happening. Sometimes she imagines she was shifting between two different realities, wondering what caused her to slide and tracing it to her decision whether or not to marry Mark.
In both worlds Patricia went to school during WWII and went to Oxford, which was taking more men because of the war. At a party she meets Mark and they become engaged. Patty goes to teach at a girls' school while Mark stays to finish school. The two exchange elaborate letters, but when Mark graduates with just a Third, instead a First level degree, he calls her and insists she has to marry him now or never. The rest of the book alternates chapters from the world where she said yes and the world where she said no.
Neither version of Patricia does anything that would cause history to split or even participate in any experiment that would explain shifting from one world to the other. This is a major point of the book, that ordinary people, living ordinary lives makes a difference.