In The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, Jim and Eva accidentally meet in 1958 Cambridge. This is the story of that meeting, or rather three different versions of it. In what first seems a typical “boy meets girl” plot, Barnett cleverly spins this around by weaving it together with the eternal question: “what if?”
In Version One of the story, Jim and Eva stumble into each other, as a result of her avoiding a collision with a dog and her bicycle tire rupturing as a result of a rusty nail. Jim stops to help her and then begins one version of their life together.
In Version Two, Eva manages to swerve around the dog and the nail, continuing on her way. She never punctures her tire and never runs directly into Jim. She goes on to marry her boyfriend and Jim goes on to live his own life. The two never meeting but unknowingly set something in motion that will resurface years later.
In Version Three, much like in Version One, Jim stops to help Eva and shortly after they fall in love and make plans for a life together. But when something unexpected happens, they are torn apart and forced to live their lives away from each other.
So what is the real version? The one in which they marry but start to drift apart from each other as a result of careless decisions and insecurities? Or perhaps the one in which they never directly meet as a result of the rusty nail in Eva’s tire but instead come together after a lifetime of disappointments, regrets, and sadness with other people?
Maybe the third version, in which they must break apart only to find each other again years later in the midst of very different lives and wonder if the past can ever be relived? In the style of Life After Life, The Versions of Us gives us the possibility of all three, leaving the reader to decide which version should be the one for Eva and Jim and which other two unequivocally become the roads not taken.
Stretching out from the 1950’s to our time, Laura Barnett presents a narrative filled with longing, nostalgia, happiness, love, and a right amount of angst and sadness. Sadness perhaps, as a result of the perfect chance for happiness carelessly wasted first by Jim and then Eva. But love too, as Jim and Eva come to learn that a small choice can alter our lives forever and that no action is without consequences or endless opportunity.