A Beautifully Complex Debut on Life Elsewhere

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The demure young woman sitting opposite me gives no clue that she is the author of the most beautifully complex and engrossing book I’ve read in ages. Her darkly comedic interconnected stories follow Elena Rubik, her best friend Jules Valentine, and wannabe investigative reporter April Kuan, as a viral marketing scheme’s motivations become a cause for concern. There are the adventures of a model turned visual artist, a tech support voice actor, enigmatic schoolchildren, clever anime characters and more. She deftly blends the real and imagined with biting social satire, exploring the lives of her diverse group of characters with deep empathy and insight into our contemporary world. In her astonishing debut novel, Rubik, Elizabeth Tan may have created a new unexpected genre. As she delicately sips on an over-sized mug of ginger and orange juice blended with a shopping list of herbs and spices, (a concoction that would that would fit right into Rubik), Elizabeth quietly explains that the dead aren’t really gone, they persist as phone numbers, social media accounts, newsletter recipients, aliases on fan-fiction. She goes deeper: digital ghosts move and connect us, so we feel we know people we have only seen online just as corporations masquerade as familiar friends. My interview with Elizabeth Tan was recorded at a cafe in suburban Perth, Australia. When you listen and then read Elizabeth’s book, I know you’ll agree the ambient noises are perfectly fitting.

Norman B June 20, 2018

Life Elsewhere is now available at NPR One & iTunes

Sundays 12 noon ET at The Source WMNF HD3  

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