Tracking the evolution of Hansel and Gretel at seventy-five-year intervals that correspond with earth’s visits by Halley’s Comet, The Archive of Alternate Endings explores how stories are disseminated and shared, edited and censored, voiced and left untold.
The Archive of Alternate Endings is an incredible novel. A book small in size but loaded with imagery—labyrinths and nautiluses—and themes beyond those I’ve touched on above. All of it is in service to a single, powerful message that folk tales about children abandoned in the woods, about houses built of cakes and lollies, about horrible parents and hungry witches, endure not to teach us a lesson but 'for one purpose only, and that purpose is to say this: Being human is difficult. Here is some evidence.'
Dazzling in scope, the novel is reminiscent of the indie-film convention—seen, for example, in Me and You and Everyone We Know and Beginners—of moving from the cosmic, historical and sweeping to the individual and contemporary ... the way [Drager] teases out different strands of the narrative and brings together seemingly disparate elements is frequently impressive ... At times the novel loses itself in these strings of association, sacrificing the meat and blood of authentic, credible human relationships in favor of flights of imaginative fancy that feel as remote as space. The characters are often thinly drawn and the opening chapters of the novel, in particular, feel weighed down by their lyricism ... Recommended for readers of Jeanette Winterson who enjoy books that defy convention in both structure and content, The Archive of Alternate Endings is an ambitious journey through time that sheds light on stories at risk of being forgotten.
If the links between these disparate moments seem tenuous, that's only because listing them doesn't do justice to the way Drager weaves together their themes ... There is something both nihilistic and deeply hopeful in Drager's looping novel. Nihilistic, because in so many ways it indicates that as parts of a continuum of human storytelling, life, love, and hate, none of us matter; but hopeful because that continuum means our stories are related, our narratives interlocking, and so while we may be insignificant, we are also never alone.