- Book: The Measure
- Location: United States (USA), Venice, Verona
- Author: Nikki Erlick
The premise of this novel – that one day in March everyone across the world who is over the age of 22 receives a box that potentially changes the way they will live their life from that moment on – is strikingly original. The arrival of the boxes is unheralded: they are simply there when the person they are intended for opens their front door. The origin of the boxes is unknown; the materials they are made from and their contents are manufactured from substances unknown to science. All the boxes are identical, except in one respect – their contents reveal to the owner the precise length of their future life. Erlick focusses on characters in America, most of them in the New York borough of Manhattan. The location is peripheral to the plot for the most part, but it is lovingly described in great detail as the characters seemingly develop a fresh awareness of, and consolation in, their surroundings.
The old saying comes to mind, that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. But even death has its mysteries for us, since nobody knows whether their lives will be long or short. Our personal characteristics dictate that some of us will choose to live as if every day were their last, while others are more cautious, not wanting to tempt fate. But what if you knew how long your life would be? Would you throw caution to the wind, knowing you were indestructible? If you knew your life would be short, would you find yourself unable to enjoy dreams of a future for your relationship or career, the possibility of children or even the ability to get a mortgage?
The Measure follows the fortunes of eight characters, some of whom will live long lives, others whose lives will be shorter, and some who choose not to open their boxes and learn their fate. It is a cracking read: a book that portrays warm relationships and wholesome characters who are faced with challenges in their lives that they would never have encountered, but for the arrival of the boxes. New issues arise, such as prejudice against those who won’t have longer lives, relationships breaking down due to the inability of one of the partners to face a future alone – there is tremendous emotional and practical fallout for everyone, whatever their predicted lifespan. Their dilemmas engage the reader, who sees each of the characters facing challenges to their existing ideas about their life plans and their certainties, depending on what the boxes might have revealed to them.
Nikki Erlick’s The Measure is beautifully plotted, as the protagonists lives are brought together, overlap momentarily or join permanently. As in real life, the choices made by one character have consequences for others, even if they hadn’t previously met. Some refuse to continue to live according to the expectations of society, their family and friends. Some find commonality with others they would never previously have met, due to the boxes and the choices they have made about how they will live their lives after that fateful day in March. The decision-making processes that the characters endure are sharply drawn by the author and the reader finds themselves confronted with the same the over-arching question, “What would I do in this situation? Would I open my box?” There’s even a little cameo from Pandora, who faced the original box-opening dilemma. The difference between the Greek goddess and the protagonists in The Measure is that their decisions about whether or not to open their box will unleash not evil but knowledge. It is the way that each of them uses that knowledge that governs the outcome. Ultimately, the conclusion of The Measure is satisfying and enriching, as the fictional world adapts to the new status quo and its inhabitants determine that life should be measured in terms of quality, and not just quantity.