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Heather McElhatton: Million Little Mistakes


Million Little Mistakes

Author: Heather McElhatton
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

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Heather McElhatton’s “do-over novels” use the structure of children’s Choose Your Own Adventure books to tell adult stories, splashed with smut. Her second do-over book, Million Little Mistakes, offers more of the same to readers of Pretty Little Mistakes, but stands alone as a truly bizarre piece of fiction.

While Pretty Little Mistakes asks readers to plot out their lives after graduating from high school, Million Little Mistakes starts with the more unlikely premise that you’ve just won $22 million in the lottery. Every few pages, readers are faced with a new option about what to do next, such as whether to hire a financial advisor, dump their boyfriend, or marry a certain suitor. In both books, the results of these decisions run from mundane to bizarre. You can lose all your money in a Ponzi scheme and end up living in a trailer park. Or you can open a coffin in an old home you’ve decided to turn into a museum, be killed by a lamia, and reincarnate as an angry poisonous mushroom, hoping some unsuspecting hiker will eat you. It’s hard to take the book seriously, but the outcomes certainly tend to be surprising. They’re also generally positive. Many of the stories end in death, but usually, your character moves on to some form of afterlife, whether it’s being reborn, getting to grill God about the mysteries of the universe, or being gifted with a “heavenly companion” with “a cock that’s too big to fit into a mason jar.”

McElhatton is creative, but her writing is rough. Her stories often feel like excuses for factoids about anything from Hindu traditions to cockroaches. The mechanics of the book could also use work. Readers are meant to reach an ending, go back, and choose other options, but a given branch of the story often contains spoilers about how other branches will turn out: Break up with your boyfriend, and he confesses he just wanted to marry you to steal all your money. Don’t break up with him, and that scenario plays out as predicted. Choices are also highly inconsistently spaced. During a trip to the horse track, you get dividing plotlines for a series of three possible successive bets, but at other times, a simple decision like selling a house decides how the rest of your life will turn out, with McElhatton making all the big choices. The shortcomings are disappointing, turning Million Little Mistakes into an amusing novelty rather than an actually good book.