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Sep072018

Book Review: A Glance at My Other

A Glance at My OtherBruce Randal WilkersonRoundfire Books, September 29, 2017, Trade Paper and E-book326 pages.

Reviewed by David Steven Rappoport.

A Glance at My Other is a compelling page turner about a young American student who is murdered and finds himself thrust into the body of a French immigrant teenager.

The taking over of one body by another—in whole or in part—is a common literary trope. In a strict literary classification, Bruce Randall Wilkerson’s rich novel is a fantasy. It shares its metaphysical conceit with many ancestors from Frankenstein to Freaky Friday. However, in this story, there are no surgically constructed monsters or hapless moms to be found—nor elves, princesses, or gold rings. A Glance at My Otheris a contemporary thriller with a twist.

An American secular Jewish exchange student, Josh Cohn, is studying in Paris. In a café, he notices a beautiful Algerian teenager, Neila. Just minutes later, he witnesses Neila drowning. As Josh pulls Neila's unconscious body from the water, he is killed by a man in a grey sweatshirt. This is when Neila’s consciousness leaves her body while Josh’s consciousness enters it. 

Josh struggles with an unfamiliar body and life without Neila’s memories to aid him. He fights for Neila's dignity as she is abused by her fundamentalist family. She is treated as though she was insane, and is a prisoner of her violent eldest brother and cold, unsympathetic mother. Desperate questions arise in Josh’s mind. Was Neila’s father murdered in Algeria and did Neila kill him? Is someone trying to kill Neila in retaliation and if so, who? Who is the man in the grey sweatshirt and what is his role in these and other events? Eventually, in a series of murderous confrontations, the ugly answers are revealed.

A Glance at My Other is Wilkerson’s first published novel, and it is accomplished in important ways. Wilkerson draws on his own experience as a young American expatriate in Paris to vividly describe the cultural dislocation of Arab immigrants in contemporary France. The characters are nuanced and convincing. Neila, in particular, is a complex composite of a religious Arab girl, a would-be Western teenager, and a tormented soul inhabited by another person. The plot is quick and active, and it adroitly rushes from danger to danger—as all good thrillers must. The novel is plotted so effectively that the metaphysics, as well as the political themes that arise inescapably, disappear into the background.

It seems clear that Wilkerson has the capacity to illuminate characters who find themselves lost in alien psychological and physical space. He also has the ability to probe fully the many related questions of dislocation. Perhaps in the future he will provide us with more insights about these complicated topics in subsequent books. 

A Glance at My Other is a first-class debut effort. Whatever Wilkerson writes next—and after that—I look forward to reading it!

 

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