If you had a chance to have a new body, would you take it? To have your memories transferred to a body cloned from your cells and given growth hormones to age the new body from infancy to your current age? A healthy body, free from disease, injury, scars, or wrinkles?
If you’re one of the characters in Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel, “And Again,” you would do it. The four main characters are suffering from injury or disease, and are among the first to undergo the new procedure.
It is a fascinating concept, and inspires questions like, How much of our memories are in our brain, and how much is in our bodies? Is it muscle memory that enables my fingers to type these words?
One of the characters, Hannah, is an artist, and she finds her gift is lost when she receives her new body. She also finds she misses her scars and tattoos. We may not realize how much of our body’s history is a part of our personal identity.
So much of others’ behavior toward us is a response to our physical appearance, which was evident in Connie’s story. As a former actress suffering from AIDS, she was treated like a pariah, but when she gets her beautiful, new body, the attention she receives is a double-edged sword. It is rather telling that her only friend – before and after the procedure – is a blind man.
The other clones, a woman paralyzed in a car accident, and a corrupt Congressman, also struggle. David seems to think he can wipe the slate clean with his new body, and be a better man, but old habits die hard. Linda, on the other hand, may as well be a complete stranger, as far as her children are concerned. She had lain in a hospital bed for eight years, while her husband and children have gone on with their lives without her.
The patients meet regularly in a support group to discuss their experiences, as no one else understands what they are going through, but when two of the clones have an affair, and David’s shady dealings threaten the future of the SUBlife program, all hell breaks loose. I won’t say any more than that; you will have to read it yourself.
‘Born with Teeth’
For me – a lover of juicy memoirs AND Star Trek – Kate Mulgrew’s book, “Born with Teeth,” was a special treat.
I have only seen Mulgrew as the indomitable Capt. Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager,” so I didn’t know much about her life or her career before that, but I was hooked from the first page, when Mulgrew was, literally, born with teeth. Her mother decides Shakespeare would have a field day with that, and thus is planted the seed of Kate’s career.
Mulgrew, from a big, free-spirited Irish Catholic family in Iowa, participated in a poetry contest in fifth grade. Her mother, invited to hear Kate recite her poetry at the contest, instructed her daughter to also read “The White Cliffs,” by Alice Duer Miller. Her own poetry elicits only polite applause, but when Kate finishes her dramatic reading of “The White Cliffs,” the audience is moved to tears.
On the way home after the contest, her mother tells her, “You know, Kitten, I watched you today, and it dawned on me that you can either be a mediocre poet or a great actress. Now, which do you think you’d rather be?”
Kate throws herself into acting, and through the many hardships life throws at her, she clings to her work, and not only survives, but thrives, through determination and grit. It’s no wonder she won the part of the fearless leader of the “Voyager” crew.
Mulgrew has led an amazing life, but I won’t give it all away and ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, I knew she was a wonderful actress, but I was pleasantly surprised to find she is also a great writer, and as I read her exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking, life story, I discovered that Kate is not only talented, but courageous and passionate as well.
By Jessica Chiarella
Touchstone; January 2016
“Born with Teeth”
By Kate Mulgrew
Back Bay Books; Reprint edition; January 2016