I have to confess I nearly didn’t finish Sarah Lotz’s recent novel, Impossible (also marketed as The Impossible Us). The novel is largely email correspondence between two characters who meet accidentally when Nick sends a grumpy message to a customer who owes him money, and it somehow ends up in Bee’s (Rebecca’s) inbox. Bee’s dinner with a Tinder date isn’t going well and she distracts herself with flippant email banter with Nick.
The story of their romance is told largely in emails because, for mysterious reasons, the two seem doomed never to meet in person. At first they are separated by a train ride – Nick’s in Leeds; Bee in London. When they do decide to meet they discover they belong in alternate realities – how many versions of the world there are, they have no idea. But in Nick’s dimension the world has made huge inroads to solve climate change as well as some obvious political differences; Bee’s dimension is the world as we know it.
Being stranded in different versions of the world makes no sense to either of them, but Nick comes across an organisation called the Berenstains who have had dealings with this anomaly. Berenstains member Geoffrey provides some light relief, tasked with keeping an eye on Nick, and staking him out like someone from a comedy-spy movie. There are rules about the situation, in particular, no meddling with the versions of people you know from a reality that’s different from your own.
Nick and Bee are all set to break this rule, Bee hunting out the Nick in her reality, who happens to be a famous author. This is galling for the original Nick, who is a literary hack, ghost writing for authors with limited talent. Meanwhile Nick seeks out the version of Bee in his reality, a Becca with a child, the wife of a powerful businessman, which is equally perplexing. She has given up her fashion design career for a family, quite unlike Bee, who has a wedding dress make-over business. Bee worries that Becca is unfulfilled and could be in a controlling relationship.
The story lurches from one complication to another as Nick and Bee set out to overcome their cross-dimensional problem to find happiness. There are plenty of humorous scenes and weird and wonderful characters – Tweedy, the elderly County type, showing Nick how to use a gun; Magda and Jonas, Bee’s elderly neighbours who epitomise lifelong devotion as a couple; Erika, Nick’s no-nonsense Nordic landlady – among others.
And even if it did at first remind me of the movies You’ve Got Mail crossed with The Lake House, the story is still original and cleverly put together. And yet in the middle it seemed to drag for me. I think it was all those emails. I’ve read epistolary novels before and enjoyed them. But here there’s a lot of bad language, which I find tiresome, and the banter which Bee and Nick find so amusing wasn’t particularly amusing for me. I began not to care particularly whether Bee and Nick found happiness as I didn’t like them very much – it’s probably a generational thing. Two thirds through I was so desperate for some elegantly crafted writing I took a breather with some Jane Austen before going back in.
But I did go back in, because it is impossible not to want to know what happens in the end. And Sarah Lotz ties it all up well. She’s a seasoned screenwriter who obviously knows about plotting and this is her seventh novel. I can imagine Impossible would adapt well to the screen. Would I recommend it? Yes, probably, but with some reservations. It gets a fairly generous 3 stars from me.