This book poses the kind of question that I just had to ask of my other reading friends – if a box arrived on your doorstep with a length of string that could tell you how long you would live your life, would you open it? And would your life be well-lived?
Title: The Measure
Author: Nikki Erlick
Publisher: The Borough Press, Harper Collins
Publication Date: 7th July 2022
Rating: 4 stars
About the Book
One spring day, small wooden boxes arrive for every person, all over the world, from suburban doorsteps to desert tents. All the boxes feature the same inscription, “The measure of your life lies within,” and vary in only two ways: the name of the recipient and the length of the single string inside. Instantly, the world is thrust into a collective frenzy, first to ascertain their origin and meaning, and then to confront the truth of the strings.
Told through multiple perspectives, The Measure introduces an unforgettable cast of characters whose lives weave and interlock with one another upon the arrival of the strings: a doctor who cannot save himself, a couple who thought they didn’t have to rush, best friends whose dreams are forever entwined, pen pals finding refuge in the unknown, and a politician whose string becomes a powder keg in an increasingly turbulent world.
As society divides itself, the truth has the power to unravel their long-held beliefs and relationships all while forging new alliances and philosophies about our time on this earth and our place in the community. Both heartbreaking and profoundly uplifting, The Measure is a sweeping, ambitious meditation on life, family, and society that challenges us to consider the best way to live life to the fullest.
What worked so well about this book is how clearly restrictions of the strings were explained – yes, they arrived mysteriously, but they would be the full length of your life. And living might just be surviving – it doesn’t guarantee immortality or quality of life. And when your string ends, whatever form that may take, it’s just unavoidable.
We follow a set of characters (who turn out to have their own string tying them to each other), who have varying lengths of string – from long life to six months max. We see their individual reactions as they choose or choose not to open their box, and how this impacts their relationships, careers and friendships, as well as their own character traits that are just an innate part of them.
There’s something about a set of characters who have a clear, finite and unavoidable date with death that makes it harder to read – you know there’s no getting out of it, no matter how ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ someone is.
I loved the idea of this novel. Some parts (such as around race and governmental policy) felt a little shoe-horned in and, although they added to the story, they didn’t demand particularly big questions from the reader. At times the characters were a little bland, and I’m glad we jumped ahead in their stories at the end to find out what would happen after this first year. And some parts were devastatingly, and not unexpectedly, sad.
But a sign of a good book is needing to talk about it, and I could imagine this being a brilliant book club topic. And it still poses the question – would you open your box, and what would you do then?
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.