Experts claim that time travel into the past defies the universal laws of physics. But there’s no reason to allow pesky reality to interfere with good fiction.
So fictional travel back in time occurs rather frequently. And whether transported by a machine, magic objects, reincarnation or dream, characters find themselves back in time. Some times, the travel results in a ground hog day-like scenario, an awakening back to the early days of the character’s life. And this sort of backward time travel makes a great story because almost everybody can relate to the question: What if I had only…?
In Ken Grimwood’s novel, Replay, Jeff Winston wakes from a soured marriage, a mediocre career, and fatal heart attack to find himself in his eighteen-year-old body. Grimwood beautifully describes the confusion, melancholy and excitement a life reboot would evoke. And Jeff Winston’s tactics, as he faces the future with knowledge of what that future holds, feel realistic. After all, there’s a certain predictability to the answer to the question: how would a person live if they had a second chance? So the reader is along for the ride as Jeff loses himself in avarice, power, hedonism, saving the world, and love.
Replay is more about Jeff’s spiritual evolution than an action based plot, reading like a more emotionally resonant version of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, a book I also enjoyed but which lost me when the focus turned to Harry’s fight against an evil super-villain. Replay stays focused on the question: “How should life be lived?” But the story intensifies as options to change the course of Jeff’s life decrease, thanks to an ever contracting time loop.
However, Grimwood’s answers to life’s questions aren’t terribly revelatory. The author makes clear that living life on your own terms requires financial independence. And several story threads suggest a commitment to raising children trumps many other considerations. But the main messages seem to be that what a single individual does or doesn’t do with his or her life doesn’t really matter, and that relationships are only a part of life, and shouldn’t define or control an individual’s choice on how to live. While these statements may be true for most people in most situations, exceptions exist. And who knows when one is an exception.