Sarah Thankam Mathews grew up between Oman and India and immigrated to the United States at seventeen. All This Could Be Different is her first novel. The story is narrated by Sneha, who is reflecting on her youth five years earlier and how she found her place in the world. Sneha is a recent college graduate, freshly arrived in Milwaukee, where she works as a consultant at a battery firm under a ruthless boss. She spends her nights perusing dating profiles and ordering expensive furniture from the internet, all whilst avoiding any forms of interaction with the terrifying, pedantic building manager living below. But her friendship with the charismatic Tig, and her romantic relationship with ballet dancer Marina, makes life more than bearable. However, when Sneha’s boss stops paying her, her life begins to unravel.
Through the character of Sneha and Thankam’s searing prose, All This Could Be Different captures the spirit of the Asian American experience. Thankam expertly portrays the experience of living in a world constantly trying to define you, of battling invisible boundaries of who you are supposed to be. Sneha, for example, hides her sexuality from her parents and strongly desires to be a good student and a good worker, all in the hopes of living up to her parents’ expectations — the same parents who sacrificed so much for her to be in America. This sense of feeling out of place also beautifully surmises the experience of being a twenty-something-year-old coming into adulthood, the notion of teetering on a tightrope, of walking on thin ice.
Thankam’s debut is also a story of dreaming against the odds. The novel thrums with a hope for a better world, free of capitalism, racism, sexism and homophobia. The idea of Sneha’s feeling out of place links to how Matthews creates a beautiful vision of a world where Sneha belongs through the family of flawed and funny friends she creates for her. In this sense, the book perfectly illustrates the many ways life tears us down, and our friends build us back up.
All This Could Be Different is a delicate, moving, a hilariously realistic portrayal of the precariousness of embarking on an adult life as a minoritised identity in America.
All This Could Be Different will be available to purchase from August 4.