Over the years, there have been a good number of books that delight with messing with your mind. Think: House of Blue Leaves. Think: The Dictionary of the Khazars. Think: Cloud Atlas.
And now there’s Crossings, a new mind-bender from Alex Landragin. I love books like this, but — also — I’ve never read a book like this. It’s an intelligent tale, ingeniously told. It’s not so much a puzzle for the reader, but it had to be a frustrating puzzle for Landragin to figure out how to pull off. But we’ll get to that in a sec.
Crossings is a time-skipping, globe-trotting love story tucked inside a mystery embedded in a puzzle consisting of three interlocking narratives. It focuses on two souls—I guess soulmates—who follow each other across time (150 years) and lifetimes (seven), trying to be together. I know this sounds a bit like reincarnation, but it’s not. It’s more about one’s inner being jumping from one physical body to another. Each jump is a crossing, and every crossing brings…complications. The crosser, who initiates the crossing, gets a new body (often younger, sometimes of the other sex, with clear advantages), a new set of experiences, and a new way to navigate the world. The crossee, so to speak, is often left confused, unaware, and hopelessly lost.
Anyway, there’s a lot of this going on in Crossings as our two lovers skip through adventures that spiral them closer to each other, then farther away, then closer again. All of this happens in three distinct narratives. One takes place in Paris on the eve of World War II. One was written by (a fictional) Charles Beaudelaire. And one unfolds on the high seas and in ports, spanning more than a century and many crossings (and I don’t mean just on the high seas).
To give more away would be to kill the fun of this wonderful book. Landrigan writes with precision, ambition, and high romance, with every feeling, every aroma, and every sensation carefully catalogued and used to full advantage. You won’t be the least bit disappointed.
Now, having said all that, what puts Crossings on the same bookshelf as the novels I mentioned above? That, you will find in the preface, which explains the book’s provenance—and it’s a lot of fun. You’ll learn that you can read this book two ways. One, straight through. Easy enough. But if you wish, you can start on page 150. At the end of that chapter (and the subsequent ones), you’ll find little numbers. These are page numbers. Just follow these breadcrumbs, and you’ll get the whole adventure a different way, one that crosses and re-crosses the three stories. I read it straight through, but I’m planning to read it the other way soon. Honestly, I can’t wait. ◊