Alone With You in the Ether

- Olivie Blake



Two people meet in the Art Institute by chance. Prior to their encounter, he is a doctoral student who manages his destructive thoughts with compulsive calculations about time travel; she is a bipolar counterfeit artist, undergoing court-ordered psychotherapy. By the end of the story, these things will still be true. But this is not a story about endings.

For Regan, people are predictable and tedious, including and perhaps especially herself. She copes with the dreariness of existence by living impulsively, imagining a new, alternate timeline being created in the wake of every rash decision.

To Aldo, the world feels disturbingly chaotic. He gets through his days by erecting a wall of routine: a backbeat of rules and formulas that keep him going. Without them, the entire framework of his existence would collapse.

For Regan and Aldo, life has been a matter of resigning themselves to the blueprints of inevitability—until the two meet. Could six conversations with a stranger be the variable that shakes up the entire simulation?



There would be times, particularly at first, when Regan would attempt to identify the moment things had set themselves on a path to inevitable collision. Moments had become intensely important to Regan, more so than they had ever been. Considering it was Aldo who had altered the shapes and paths of her thinking, it was probably his fault that she now considered everything in terms of time.


almost perfect:
Alone With You in the Ether is exactly what you’d expect from a romance novel written by the author of the Atlas series. But in the best way possible.

She is in all of his spaces and all of his thoughts. He contemplates formulas and degrees of rationality and they all turn into her. He thinks about time, which has only recently begun, or at least now feels different. He thinks: The Babylonians were wrong; time is made of her.

The Atlas Six had me confused but intrigued – I still can’t be sure whether I loved it or hated it – and The Atlas Paradox left me a little more on the bored/disappointed side of things (until that ending). So I wasn’t as excited to pick up Alone With You in the Ether as I could have been. Nevertheless, I placed a hold, dutifully picked it up from the library, and then put off reading it for as long as I could. Of course, once I finally picked it up, I stayed up until 2 am, unable to put it down.

Similar to The Atlas Six, so many parts lie right on the border of love and hate. Is Aldo a genius or just a convoluted asshole? Is Regan lonely and bored or delusional and manic? Did Blake write a thoughtful and touching romance that is inclusive of mental illness or a misleading and dangerous manifesto that is anti-therapy and anti-medication? (Just a note – I would highly recommend reading Blake’s acknowledgments at the end for anyone concerned about this. I have to admit that I was torn between the absolute perfection of the ending and feeling a bit uncertain about Blake’s intentions regarding Regan’s narrative. The acknowledgements went a long way to putting my mind at ease. I’ve complained about books involving mental illness which set dangerous precedents for ‘fixing yourself’ or ignoring medical advice. It was a relief not to have to do that here.)

He laughs, What were you painting? She says very seriously, You, always you, I can't help it. Only you these days. Jesus, he thinks, something is wrong with us, we are unwell, no one has ever felt any of this without destruction. Empires have fallen like this, he thinks, but it only makes him want her more, makes him look at his hands and think, My god, what a waste of time doing anything else but holding her. What a waste, and then he says aloud, JesusfuckingChrist what have you done to me? And she says, Kiss me.
He kisses her, thinks, Go on, ruin me. Wreck me, please.
She kisses him back and she does.

While there were moments that I wanted to skim because Aldo or Regan were too caught up in their cerebral nonsense, there were also moments that broke through with such absolute sincerity it took my breath away. And every interaction between Aldo and Masso is worth rereading immediately because the love between them is so strong and apparent it makes you feel warm and cozy and happy to be alive.

I can easily see how some readers will come down on the hate/dislike side at the end of Alone With You in the Ether. If you’re not in the mood to read about two privileged adults playing games while they ‘logic’ their way through a relationship, making it so much more complicated than it would ever need to be, you’re really not going to be happy with this book. Alone With You in the Ether actually reminded me a lot of Sally Rooney’s writing which I know can also be controversial; egotistical college-aged adults who overthink everything, have a lot of overly intellectual conversations, nothing much really happens, and there’s a slightly problematic undertone. But if you’re like me, and you’ve read a few too many cookie-cutter romance novels lately (and you’re a massive fan of Rooney’s writing), you might end up on the love side. Because if there’s one thing that can be said about Blake and whatever genre she’s writing, it most certainly won’t be what you’re expecting.

She confessed to him that her relationships with men, which he'd already understood in an abstract way to be flawed, were like that because she was constantly thinking of herself as a sexual object.

"I think it was just like that, from so early on," she told him. "For boys, sex is a part of life, a rite of passage. Boys look at porn when they're twelve, thirteen! Boys get to have sex just as it is, just sex. Girls are taught fairy tales, they're taught happily ever after, they're taught sex as a consequence of marriage. Imagine seeing the world that way, as if sex isn't a right but a rung on a ladder. We have to withhold it, can you imagine that? Because it's so brainless and simple that if men get it too easily, they'll just leave. Because really, how the fuck is my vagina different from any other woman's? No, the thing that makes me different is somewhere else, literally anywhere else, but I can't enjoy sex without some archaic sociological risk. And if you think about that it's even worse, because look at the vagina, Aldo. It can have infinite orgasms. It doesn't require any recovery time. It can come and come and come and what, maybe it gets dry? Lube it up again, easy. If any sexual organ is omnipotent it's the fucking cunt but no, penises are the ones who get to decide whether a woman has value. Who let that happen? Really, Aldo, who? Maybe this is why men rule the world, because they were clever enough to convince women that virginity is precious, that sex itself should be secret, that being penetrated was sacrosanct. It's idiotic, it's even dumber than it is cruel and that's the worst part. The idea that I should want sex less than you, why does that exist?"



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