I've always been fascinated with the notion of how our lives would be different if this or that particular circumstance hadn't occurred. The Divide by Nicholas Evans once again brought that question to my mind.
The story begins when Abbie Cooper's frozen body is found by a man who loses his grip while skiing on an icy Montana mountainside. Abbie has been missing for the last four years, thought to be hiding out from the FBI for killing someone during an act of eco-terrorism. The Divide, through a series of flashbacks, shows a seemingly happy family that, through a progression of ostensibly unrelated events, become divided both emotionally and physically.
Coming from a well-to-do family in New York, Abbie would be the last person that one would expect to be on the run from the authorities. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of life hers would have been if her father had not left her mother that holiday weekend. What if her mother had insisted that she stay, rather than carry on with her plans to go to an innocent demonstration before heading back to college? Instead, she met Rolfe, an intriguing radical, who later came to be her lover and tormentor, changing her life and the lives of her family in ways she never would have imagined. The story of her parents' breakup and how it affected all of the members of the Cooper family is revealed in a very believable storytelling style by Evans.
I found myself alternately empathizing with each character. In one chapter, I thought that Sarah, Abbie's mother, was a cold fish of a woman (no wonder Ben found himself attracted to another woman). I understood that Ben hadn't been happy in his marriage for quite some time, and that he really didn't mean to hurt anyone. Yet, in the next chapter, I saw him as a selfish man, who thought nothing of destroying his family's happiness. Was Abbie's behavior simply that of a child growing up and away in a different direction from her upbringing, or was it a punishment for her father's desertion?
The Divide was one of those books that I kept thinking about when I wasn't actually reading it. It wasn't all warm and fuzzy with the perfect Leave It To Beaver family. Still, I felt a kind of peace at the conclusion. The Divide was a look inside of a family that was likeable in spite of its flaws, the members of which learned individually how to deal with what life dealt them. Yet, the questions remain: what if Ben had not left Sarah? What if Abbie hadn't met Rolfe? Most of all, (the only question the book truly answers in the end) how did Abbie die?
We all have chance circumstances and people who enter our lives that can and do change the course of our futures. We can call it fate or serendipity, but all we can really know is what we have in the here and now. And every once in a while, we can't help but stop and wonder, for better or worse, what might have been.