“Divided by Infinity,” by Robert Charles Wilson brings you back to the vanishing world of the used book store — the smell of old bindings, the rattle of bead curtains, the rumpled owner — but which world is it?
Bill Keller recently lost his wife, Lorraine, who used to work in Finders, a place whose loving description reminds me of book stores gone to other realms, like the Gotham Book Mart or Avenue Victor Hugo. He used to read a lot of science fiction back in the day, so he picks up a couple paperbacks — of classics he’s never seen before. That can’t be right.
Bill tries to track down what the books are and where they came from. When he confronts the owner of Finders, he receives a kind of answer in a psuedoscience tract., which claims that due to parallel universes we never die, we just become less likely. It’s hard to say how seriously Bill takes this, but he seems comforted by the idea. And just when you think the story is well settled into a meditation on the unlikeliness of our continued existence, it takes a turn through a narrative wormhole that comes up in a whole new, creepy territory.
The last third of the story is wrenching, but when I think back I remember the mundane details of the first two-thirds. The descriptions and observations are often beautiful and always spot-on. All the characters feel like real people, muddling through. This is a well-told, very strange story, and I thank Uncertain Principles for recommending it as an example of a good story using the Many Worlds Interpretation.
Collected in The Perseids and Other Stories.