Review: 'Elsewhere’ ponders the meaning of motherhood

Posted 6/27/22

“Elsewhere,” the new novel from Alexis Schaitkin, transports readers to a mysterious mountain town where mothers occasionally vanish, a fact of life residents call an “affliction.” It’s …

This story requires a subscription for $5.99/month.

Already have an account? Log in to continue.

Current print subscribers can create a free account by clicking here.

Otherwise, click here to subscribe.

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe. The five stories do not include our exclusive content written by our journalists.

For $5.99, less than 20 cents a day, digital subscribers will receive unlimited access to, including exclusive content from our newsroom and access to our Daily Independent e-edition.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in

Subscribe to our e-newsletter for continued access

Free newsletter subscribers to the Daily Independent can enjoy free access to our AP stories, Capital Media Services, earned media and special contributors on our Opinions with Civility pages. If you aren’t a free newsletter subscriber yet, join now and continue accessing more content. This does not include our exclusive content written by the newsroom. We hope you’ll consider supporting our journalism.

I am anchor

Review: 'Elsewhere’ ponders the meaning of motherhood


“Elsewhere” by Alexis Schaitkin (Celadon Books)

Sometimes it’s fun to read something that doesn’t fit in any particular category. “Elsewhere,” the new novel from Alexis Schaitkin (“Saint X,” 2020), is best described as a dark fairy tale, with elements of the supernatural, but with something very real to say about a topic all readers can relate to in one way or another — motherhood.

Mothers who read it will probably nod their heads the most. Schaitkin writes trenchantly about what it means to mother, the hardships and self-doubt balanced with the beauty and love. “A mother was a chance to hate someone as much as you loved them, caring and wounding, a push and pull that only tightened the knot that bound you,” writes Schaitkin from the perspective of her first-person narrator, Vera, a young woman growing up in a nameless, secluded mountain town, where mothers mysteriously vanish from time to time, a fact of life that everyone calls an “affliction.”

Vera’s mother disappeared when she was young and as the story progresses and Vera herself gives birth, the novel takes on an eerie quality, as she wonders if she’ll be next. Here she is nursing her child, Iris: “How could it be that she carried the potential to make me go, or to go herself one day? For the first time, I felt the full weight of our affliction: the peril of immense loss and the power of immense love, the two forces impossible to disentangle, for they were one and the same.”

The book’s other major theme is in the title. Residents of Vera’s hometown never leave except for the moms who vanish. They rely on a man named Mr. Phillips to arrive by train four times a year and bring them anything they can’t make or grow on their own. There’s a sense of comfort and peace in their town that trumps any curiosity they may have about what lies over the mountains. So when a stranger shows up one day, the townspeople fall all over themselves to ingratiate themselves to her. “We wanted her to have beautiful things. It pleased us to watch her see, taste, touch all we had to offer,” writes Schaitkin. Those good vibes don’t last when the stranger forms close ties to one of the town’s residents, setting in motion the rest of the novel.

Summarizing the subsequent plot points simply doesn’t do “Elsewhere” justice. This is a book best savored. It’s brief, just 223 pages, but filled with memorable lines like this that can be appreciated by mothers, fathers or anyone who has ever loved: “You do not get to keep what is sweetest to you; you only get to remember it from the vantage point of having lost it.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here