In Andy Kutler’s debut novel, The Other Side of Life, Commander Malcolm Kelsey, of the naval ship Nevada moored in Battleship Row, attempts to save his crew during the Japanese airstrike on Peal Harbor in 1941. This dramatic opening immediately captivates the reader as Kelsey works to get his ship out of harbor, away from the other burning fleets before it is too late. I haven’t read many novels about Pearl Harbor and so I was instantly caught up in this and thoroughly enjoyed the vivid and almost movie-like feel of this scene.
When “Two successive bombs [rip} through the Nevada’s aft quarterdeck. The force of the explosion knock[s] Kelsey off his feet and his head slam[s] into the railing as he f[alls] to the deck, falling between the two corpses.” Kelsey wakes to find himself on a train with many of the men who died in the fierce battle. This “afterlife” is not exactly what he expected and a conversation with Samuel Leavitt tells him nothing is. Mr. Leavitt offers Kelsy an interesting proposition. Kelsey can either return to the deck of the Nevada or embark on a new path with a new identity. All his memories (including the memories of his daughter; her life and her death) will be wiped away and Commander Malcolm Kelsey will cease to exist. He will begin a new life, before 1941, and the only things that will remain unchanged are his gender, age and North American heritage. Kelsey seizes the chance to start a new life without the guilt and ache losing his daughter has caused him.
He wakes to find himself in a barrack in 1861 with the Unites States on the brink of civil war. But, unlike what Leavitt promised, Kelsey has all his old memories; he hasn’t escaped his old life, he just starting a different life with all the same burdens and pains as his first life. As a union soldier, Kelsey is embroiled in the bloody civil war. During these four years of war, he develops new loyalties and connections, but Kelsey cannot escape the grief of his former life, specifically the his daughter’s untimely death . Surrounded by death, Kelsey must face his pain, find his purpose and use his skills to save the lives of those he has come to care for in this new life.
The Other Side of Life addresses the question, What would you do if you were given another chance, another life? It is an interesting read though at first I found it difficult to keep all the characters straight in my head. Despite being written in third person, the shifts in points of view had me a little confused until I became accustomed to it. Additionally, I found I wanted to see Kelsey appear more often throughout the narrative as there we some long stretches without him and I found myself asking; Where’s Kelsey? Lastly, there were some small hiccups for me such as a typo on page 345 that should have been “three thousand” and “there thousand” and it the the link from Traverse (a civil war soldier) to his daughter’s eventual death wasn’t clear enough for me. I had to go back and re-read sections to see if I had missed something. Despite these small bumps in the road, The Other Side of Life is a fast pace, action filled narrative that is bombarded with difficult moral choices and emotional consequences.
Overall, The Other Side of Life is a creative and interesting read. I believe readers who love novels set in war times will find this quick paced novel takes an unusual but enjoyable twist to the age-old question, What would you do if you could have a different life?
While Andy’s writings have appeared in The Huffington Post and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Other Side of Life is his first novel which is set for release August 11th. To buy a copy click this link The Other Side of Life