Friday, May 22, 2009

Replay [Book, ***]

I haven't read a lot of fiction in the last few years. During the two years I've been in grad school I had to put most recreational reading on hold, and since then I've mostly read either more technical books, or nonfiction about politics or philosophy. I decided that this is something I miss in my life, so I recently raided the Round Rock Library and checked out two books. Replay by Ken Grimwood is something I browsed in a bookstore a few months ago and found interesting enough to put on my mental wish list. Dune by Frank Herbert is a book that everyone praises but I have somehow not gotten around to yet. I finished the first, so here's my review.

Replay predates the movie Groundhog Day by a few years, and uses a similar high concept. I love that movie, as I love most sci-fi that involves time travel or other creative reorganizations of time. As in Groundhog Day, Replay involves a main character trapped in an unexplained time loop. Unlike Groundhog Day, where the scope of the loop is one day, the book has its character reliving 25 years of his life.

It opens with the death of the main character, Jeff. Trapped in a loveless and childless marriage and an unfulfilling job, Jeff experiences a heart attack at the age of 43 in 1988, keels over, and awakes to find himself trapped in the past, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that the next leap will be the leap home. Oh, wrong story. But you get the idea.

Jeff lives his life about five times that are noteworthy. As Bill Murray did, Jeff goes through various stages in his attempt to come to grips with what's happening. He uses his knowledge of the future to become insanely rich. Then he tries to fulfill himself with a better committed relationship, which works out pretty well but is entirely erased on the next round. Then he spirals into hedonism and drug abuse, then finally meets a kindred spirit who understands what he's going through. Then they try to save the world.

Unlike Groundhog Day, a fair amount of time is devoted to speculating about the real cause of the time loop, but the effort is largely wasted because they never come to anything resembling a conclusion. In fact, the whole book didn't feel like it had much of a conclusion. Jeff wanders from one life to the next and does a whole lot of stuff, and makes some effort to throw out philosophical thoughts about the implications. But the book just ends, and nothing that happened seems all that significant. Jeff's learned something, I suppose. And there's a one-off epilogue that seems to try to make it feel more significant, but didn't much work for me.

Replay was still an enjoyable read. Ultimately it's simply about a whole bunch of stuff happening, and the stuff is interesting to read about. I don't feel like I got a greater message out of it in the end, so I'll categorize this as a good diversion. It does make you think about what you would do with multiple lives, though.

*** (out of 5)


  1. Russell,

    First I wanted to mention that I grew up in Round Rock and started going to the RR library when it was just a portable building / trailer long before it moved into its permanent home on Main St. I can't tell you how many hours I spent there. In the summer, my mom would drop me off there with a quarter in my shoe and I would call her from the pay phone in the lobby when I was ready to come home. Good memories.

    I, like you, had heard good things about Dune, and I've not read a lot of fiction recently. I decided to give it a try, and was quite pleased with the book. Because of the goings-on in the world in the last few years, some of the non-fiction I have read has been about the history of the Middle East. I don't know anything about Frank Herbert's backround, but he incorporated a lot of arabic language and concepts in the book that are facinating... especially after having read those histories.

    I heartily recommended Dune, and plan to read Herbert's follow-up books in the series to see if the storytelling is as good as the first book.


  2. If you're a fan of alternate worlds fiction, there's a finished blogstory called "For Want of a Physicist" that's really engaging.

    Don't read if Alternative lifestyles scare you, but I don't imagine that would be too much of a problem for this crowd.

  3. Anonymous9:33 AM

    Looking forward to your Dune review.

  4. I suggest Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Although I have not read the rest of the Ender series, I did enjoy these two books. They carry something in the way of a message, and the second book deals with how we view taboo practices. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

    Of course, as simply recreational, I also highly suggest the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

    I liked your review, and, being a fan of all things time-bending, I'm probably going to go pick up Replay.