When you write a weekly column, you’re constantly looking for trends to grab and write about, and I thought I discovered one recently when I ran through promotions for two time-traveling literary novels within seconds of each other.
The first was HBO’s new adaptation of Adri Niveniger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which seems to take the slightly creepy romance deep into six episodes that the original hour and 47 minutes couldn’t edit the movie.
I’m actually a little afraid to watch the series given the emotional blessing the movie has been able to make of me.
Another time-travel novel is Emma Straub’s recently released “This Time Tomorrow”, in which the main character Alice is transported from her fortieth birthday to her sixteenth, with the chance to recreate a pivotal day in her life with the armed benefit of hindsight.
In search of the law-mandated third example to justify part of the trend, I quickly realized that it would be foolish to try to argue that time travel narratives are some kind of trend, because, in fact, time travel narratives have been absolutely consistent since the concept was promoted before H.G. Wells with his classic book “The Time Machine”.
Just this month, I watched two more TV series about time travel. The first was the really crazy “Beforeigners” (also on HBO and originally aired in Norway), where people from other times have suddenly started popping up in the present. If you want to see how Vikings armor from 1000 AD passed on to the killing cop, check it out.
The other was Shining Girls (Apple+) starring Elizabeth Moss, and based on the novel by Lauren Beaux, in which Moss’ character attempts to track down the man who tried to kill her, a man whose time travel literally fuels the women he kills.
Although you might think that the possibilities of using time travel as a story-telling tool would have run out by now, we (and by “we” I suppose I mean “me”) can’t get enough of them.
Straub’s “This Time Tomorrow” illustrates one of the main plots of time travel stories, the idea that we might get a chance to replay that might erase or at least alter negative future consequences. Who of us can’t immediately think of the number of times in our lives we might want a rewind button to make a different choice at a pivotal moment.
There are no spoilers here, but This Time Tomorrow explores how meaningful moments may not emerge immediately, and no matter what insight and intent we may bring into our past, the future remains largely out of our control. Alice’s struggle to steer her destiny through time puts the reader on edge during the last half of the book.
Interestingly, The Time Traveler’s Wife explores time travel as a kind of curse as Henry and Claire’s romance is complicated by Henry periodically slipping into a different time without prior notice or control. Henry must also live with the knowledge of his own destiny, and that he is ultimately powerless to his own.
While Alice Straub is not in the same dire situation as Henry, there always seems to be a cost to messing with the linear course of our lives, and Alice finds this fact inescapable. The trick is to come to terms with it.
I believe that in the end, no matter what we may do to alter our trajectories, we cannot escape ourselves, and that will do more than anything else to define our life forms.
John Warner is the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Essentials.
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read
1. “The Pigeon in the Belly” by Jim Grimsley
2. “The inexplicable survival of a happy, fallible child” Written by Gary C. Milley, Jr
3. “The Animal Girl: Two Novels and Three Stories” by John Fulton
4. “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
5. “Bad Sex in Kentucky” by Kevin Lynn Deringer
Robert J Orland Park
Judging from this list, Robert works for small/independent presses, which seems like permission to lean on that angle. “My Volcano” by John Elizabeth Stentze, published by Two Dollar Radio, is the kind of book that makes independent publishers so important, and I think Robert will find it as compelling as I have.
1 – “The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa C
2. “This Age of Fun” by Kelly Reed
3. “Boldness to Lead” By Brian Brown
4. “The Great Alone” by Kristen Hannah
5. “Crying at the H Mart” by Michael Zoner
– Amy H. Glenn Ellen
It’s only a matter of time until Hannah Pittard reaches a very wide audience of readers, so it’s a good idea to start off with her first novel to see what’s coming, “Destinies Will Find Their Way.”
1. “The Painted Drum” by Louise Erdrich
2. “An Apple Never Falls” by Lianne Moriarty
3. “Welcome Crime” by Robin Yokom
4. “The Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead
5. “Lincoln Highway” by Amore Tools
– Catherine J, Chicago
Catherine looks like a reader who will enjoy the epic personal story of Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black” narrator/poet character.
Get a reading from the Bible
Submit a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown [email protected].