cover image The Measure

The Measure

Nikki Erlick. Morrow, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-320420-1

How would people behave if they knew the length of their lives, asks the moving but predictable debut novel from Erlick. One night, mysterious wooden boxes appear outside every door on Earth, each holding a string, the length of which corresponds to how long its recipient will live, which the recipients begin to figure out and share on social media. Erlick introduces seemingly unconnected characters as they grapple with the news. There’s Hank, a physician who joins a support group for “short-stringers”; Jack, the long-stringed scion of a Kennedy-like political family; and Maura and Nina, a couple two years into their relationship, whose contentment is ruptured when they find that Maura’s string is half the length of Nina’s. Some people, like Nina’s sister, Amie, choose not to look at their strings at all, but even conscious abstainers cannot deny the strings’ devastating impact. Then, a charismatic and villainous presidential candidate looks to capitalize on an older generation’s fears over the short-stringers and the hell they could raise. Late-breaking connections between the characters feel more schematic than revelatory, and details of diverse supporting players such as Jack’s Latino college roommate, who “couldn’t afford to be seen as [a] failure,” read like paint-by-numbers. Still, the scenes of grief and love are poignant. There’s plenty of drama, but overall, it’s a bit too anodyne. Agent: Cindy Uh, CAA. (July)