Pulp Consumption: “A Parallel Life” and “The Intersection” by Edmund Lester

A Parallel Life” and “The Intersection” are two short novels by Edmund Lester. Both share similar themes and even characters, almost as if they are slices of alternate universes where the action takes place.

A Parallel Life: Ben Williamson by [Lester, Edmund]
Cover for “A Parallel Life”

“A Parallel Life” follows Ben Williamson, accountant, who chances upon the fact that a man sharing his name has been recently killed. The dead man happened to be a musician in a glam rock band, and Ben-the-accountant slowly starts to take on the aspect of his dead doppelgangers life. It starts small at first- finding YouTube videos online of performances, tracking down memorabilia, picking up the guitar and playing again. It snowballs quickly, however, with Ben deciding to attend the estate auction and blowing through what reserve funds he has, much more than he was originally planning to spend. His obsession with adapting to his new life also leads to his cold-blooded execution of his wife. Ben’s various sins do catch up with him, however, at the end.

The Intersection: Ben Williamson by [Lester, Edmund]
Cover for “The Intersection”

“The Intersection” follows a similar patter as “A Parallel Life” but here Ben Williamson (still an accountant) ends up purchasing an old-fashioned projector and a number of films. One of the films is a slice of life recording of New York City in 1909. Ben quickly becomes obsessed with the recording, due in no small part to the fact that details of the recording change with each viewing. Soon after, Ben discovers there are thin spaces in the world, places where he can transition between England in the present day and New York in the past. He establishes a double life, becoming an accountant in New York. He again, like in “A Parallel Life” goes a step too far and discovers a way to kill his wife by bringing her over to New York. Because her double in New York no longer existed, having died before Ben discovered how to switch back and forth, his wife simply disappears. This act is a watershed moment, however, and Ben is forced to choose between the present day and the New York of 1909. Having made his choice, the illusion is shattered and Ben is left with nothing but regret.

What the books do well is showing how growing obsession with what you don’t have, of how having a taste of the so-called good life can drive a person down a dark path. In both cases, the obsession started as something innocuous, but as time went on the fixation became all-consuming and ended up corrupting an otherwise staid individual. A downside for me in both of these novels is that, despite the short length, they are very much windows into an ordinary life, with the extraordinary feeling tacked on in places. While there is a sense of growing detachment from his wife in both books, I was caught off guard by his decision to murder her when I read the first book.[1] There wasn’t enough there to show the character’s mental state into why he thought that was the best course (as opposed to, say, divorcing her).

The biggest drawback is that if you read one book, you may as well have read the other. Some of the details changes, but the underlying arcs and themes remain the same, making the reader feel like they are listening to the same piece of music, with only a few variations thrown in.

[1] Much less so in the second, because they follow very similar arcs.

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