"I wish, I wish, I hadn't killed that fish."
No, that's not a quote from this story. That is a quote immemorial from one of my favorite The Simpsons specials, Time and Punishment. The gist of that episode is that Homer fried a toaster while trying to fix it (naturally the way to fix a toaster is by jamming random stuff in it until it works). That toaster ends up taking him back into the time of the dinosaur, where---crap---Homer's every action in the distant past hilariously changes the course of history. With every attempt, he tries to return home to find it irretrievably changed. Homer keeps going back and forth from the past to the present, searching for that perfect universe, the one closest to that which he originally left, and never quite reaches it. The sad thing is that Homer never realizes that his perfect universe---the one with a perfect family, the one with the huge mansion, the one in which the sky fucking rains donuts, is the one he left before realizing how good it was.
Homer's constant search for his perfect universe is what reminded me of this book. I have to say I prefer the Simpson's version, and not just because I'm a fan of the show. This book started off really well, and the scientific principles are truly well developed and explained, but my enjoyment of the main character grew increasingly slim as the book progressed. I started off sympathizing with Ruby. I ended up with a considerable amount of contempt for her.
Summary: Ruby Wright has a pretty shitty life at the moment. Her father has remarried and moved the two of them from San Francisco, California to smack in the middle of nowhere, Ennis, Ohio. Her stepmother is a good woman, her stepsister is a bomb waiting to explode. Ruby is fascinated by a gigantic oak tree in a field near her home. Legend has it that anyone who tries to chop it down will die. Ruby is drawn to it, and during her exploration around the tree, discovers a door---a wormhole to different parallel universes.
She begins to explore each universe, which is pretty much identical to her original one, and sees how her life could have been different in each. They're pretty nice, she has an older brother, she has a mother, she has different personalities. The trouble comes when Ruby decides to shop around for the universe that best fits her wants.
The Characters & The Romance (you can't have one without the other in this book): I started off feeling really bad for Ruby. Fuck, the girl has been uprooted from everything and everyone she knows in California (an awesome state, I should know, I live there ^_^) to the cornfields of Ohio. She misses her friends, above all, she misses George, her friend's boyfriend, on whom she secretly has a crush. Ruby's got a shitty new high school with crap extracurricular activities, and she's got the stepsister from hell. Kandinsky (who goes by Kandy) is a nightmare in the form of a teenaged girl. She is psychotic, she is violent, she needs to be medicated. Poor, poor Ruby.
And Ruby is really fucking smart. So it started off well: I liked Ruby. I felt bad for her. It's good, right? She can only get better?
Fucking wrong. Let's get one thing straight. I don't expect my heroines to be perfect. I was a bitch of a teenager, and I don't expect complete maturity from my book heroines. I do expect them to learn from their experience, and I do expect them to make reasonable decisions. I expect them to have reasonable priorities, and Ruby, as book smart as she is, turned out to be another stupid, shallow girl, far from my expectations.
She is angry when we first meet her. That's understandable. But then she visits one of her parallel universes and turns into a moron.
Fact #1: Ruby's mom is dead in her original universe, and alive in the other ones. Ruby is desperate to see her mother again, so she takes a chance and goes back to Universe #2 to see her mother. Mom, mom, where are you, I want to see you, I miss you so much, I love you so much, I want so desperately to have you back in my life again----OOH, THE BOY I HAVE A CRUSH ON.
Does he know me? What am I to him here? A friend, a fling, a complete stranger? I want to hug him and tell him how happy I am to see him. Tears rush to my eyes. I miss you! I need you!
MOM? FUCK SEEING MY MOM AGAIN. SHE'S BEEN DEAD TO ME FOR THE PAST 11 YEARS. SHE'LL LAST ANOTHER DAY IN THIS UNIVERSE. LET'S GO HAVE LUNCH WITH MY CRUSH FIRST ^_^
And while we're at it, George and I were meant to be!!!!!!!! In every universe! We're destined to be together!!!!!
A Ruby and a George, both living in this small Ohio town, both in the same French class. It makes my heart swell, my hands shake. What are the chances? What could it mean? Is my parallel Ruby destined to be with this parallel George, and they just haven’t clicked yet? Am I fated to be with my George, back in Universe One?
Are you fucking kidding me?
She proceeds to go totally obsessive and stalkerish over George, telling him every detail she shouldn't have known about his life.
And instead of being totally creeped out by her behavior, George thinks Ruby's the most adorable thing in the world.
Ruby is a bitch and an idiot. Instead of adapting to her new life in the new universe, she tries to fit the new universe to her own needs. There is no effort at bonding with her new (and really sweet) older brother, Patrick. She is not the least bit inconspicuous. She goes around muttering dumb things, not trying to fit in one bit. And she is a huge, huge asshole to her own father. Ruby fat shames her own dad.
“Your weight!” I say.
Dad is a good fifty pounds heavier. His shirt stretches across his belly. The worn holes in his belt mark the progression of his weight gain.
“What’s going on?”
“I could ask the same,” I say. Dad’s eyes are practically lost in his fleshy face. “You’re a cheeseburger away from a heart attack...You’re just stupid selfishness, everywhere I go! Look at yourself!...Obviously you have no trouble feeding your own needs,” I say, motioning to his belly.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? YOU'RE WEIGHT-SHAMING YOUR OWN FATHER FOR NO FUCKING REASON, YOU BITCH.
Needless to say, after this point, Ruby could go wander off and get permanently lost in another universe and I wouldn't give a fuck. For the rest of the book, she is completely irredeemable. Ruby is a terrible character, and I outright hated her by the end.
The Premise: As with everything in this book, the premise started off well, and ended poorly. I have never read a book about parallel universes and wormholes that ended up being entirely well written; this book came close, but the execution did not reach the scientific premise that it promised, instead relying on typical deus ex machina conventions instead of the awesome scientific background in which the book went into so much detail.
The science goes pretty deep in this one. One of the main reasons why I liked Ruby so much initially is because she is such a smart girl. She loves math, she loves science, and she is brilliant at it. Ruby not only has a deep love for quantum physics, string theory, she has a tremendous understanding of it through her readings of real-life physicists like Brian Greene and Michio Kaku. She book explains string theory in amazing detail, making it easy to understand...but then it all came crashing down when the concept of alternate universes is actually explained because the execution of the parallel universes within this book did not comply with the explanation of it.
I'll try to make this short, since really, it's the holidays, and nobody wants to hear a detailed analysis about string theory. There is an infinite possibility of parallel universes, as explained in the book, and the execution of it is too simplistic, the parallel worlds are too similar to her own to be completely believable. The crux of string theory is that there are multiverses in which anything is possible. It is so unlikely that Ruby wanders into one after the other, whose worlds are so, so completely similar to her own. Out of all the multiverses out there, Ruby happens to travel conveniently through each universe by her own choosing, through a wormhole door located in a tree. The variances between the universes are too similar to our own, too similar to her actual life, to feel real. In several parallel universes, Ruby's mother is alive, and she has a brother. It is just too coincidental, out of all the possible choices out there, that she just happens to wander into such convenient onces.
What became of the other Rubys? Why is everything so relatively normal? Come on, where are the three-legged fish? Where are the people with horns growing out of their heads? Think of The Simpsons, man! As Ruby says herself, every action has a multitudinous effect. A butterfly effect. The parallel universes in this book are just too damn good to be true.
Good theory, poor execution. Michio Kaku would be disappointed.