Review of What If We Were Somewhere Else by Wendy J. Fox
Words By Dominic Loise
Published November 1, 2021 by Santa Fe Writers Project.
The chance to review What If We Were Somewhere Else by Wendy J. Fox intrigued me. For myself, linked fiction short-story collections like this represent how we are all part of life’s tapestry and can only see the forefront patterns and miss the weave’s interconnecting tangles behind the patterns. In What If We Were Somewhere Else, the characters—who are all affected by a massive corporate layoff at the same downtown Denver corporation—do not see how their individual story threads connect. Each character’s life/work balance comes back to us with more familiarity and focus as the reader peers behind the tapestry to follow a character’s individual parts in the grander scheme of the interconnecting whole of this short-story collection. Through each of these weaved together stories, we see the scope of the office environment from multiple perspectives and what happens when cubicles no longer connect people.
In What If We Were Somewhere Else, the characters’ workday patterns have been broken by the layoff. We witness people breaking out of set routines and drastic life changes after their job ends. Fox’s characters are moving past the cubicles they are in, the feeling of loss from a job layoff, or relationships both personal and private. Kate is not only going through the downsizing but also a divorce. Melissa returns to her childhood commune and examines if she can leave the immediate benefits of a consumer-based society. Wendy J. Fox visits the workplace with empathy at a time when many readers may have been downsized themselves, had their relationships change, or had life goals shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What If We Were Somewhere Else is a book I commend because the topics of being present in one’s daily life and the importance of life/work balance both currently deserve a platform.
Fox ties up each story with elegant imagery, which stays with you and carries you to the next one. Where the previous story is about how everyone talks about the weather at parties, the next has a character left outside of an office holiday party in the snow. The previous images are not the only threads connecting these characters to one another. We revisit characters to see where they are in their lives since the layoff. Patterns come into play another way as each laid off employee is each given three stories in the book. Sometimes a character’s thread will loop back on their own short story as characters grow and view the events of their previous story with a new perspective. With this three-story pattern, we slowly see the connections of one character’s affairs and failed marriages intersecting into another person’s story and how they end up “living” with a different former co-worker. I recommend What If We Were Somewhere Else to everyone, particularly readers looking to break out of their own patterns, circling back to the past with the same viewpoint, or not yet in a place to forgive.
Fox has a smooth-flowing prose style that helps keep you connected to her characters. She gives each of the characters we follow their own voice in addition to their own story while honoring each with her amazing writing style. Fox writes about people going through something because the path to healing is not in the moment of a tragedy but going through the healing process. What If We Were Somewhere Else is a book that not only addresses what the workplace has witnessed with the pandemic but also helped me as a reader be present in the now.