Completed 11/12/2021, Reviewed 11/15/2021
Very interesting book. It’s sort of a “Groundhog Day” premise except the main character dies at 43 and goes back to age 18, over and over. I thought it would get boring but Greenwood finds a way to keep the cycles fresh and reader interested. The main character starts out pursuing wealth and sex and slowly grows as the cycles continue. He develops real depth as he realizes what’s really important in life and how it all gets swept away at the end of one’s life. This book won the World Fantasy Award in 1988.
Jeff Winston is the main character. When he suddenly dies of a fatal heart attack at age 43, he wakes up in his 18-year-old body in 1963. It takes him a while to realize and accept what happened until he looks in the mirror and sees his younger self. He struggles with the idea of starting college all over again, knowing what he knows about the rest of his life. As the first leg of the Triple Crown approaches, he realizes he knows the surprise outcome of the race and makes a bet with everything he has and can borrow. He makes other bets on outcomes he knows and soon leaves college to become a financial wizard, investing in all the companies he knows will make it big in the coming decades. When he dies at 43 and has to start over at 18 again, he feels like life is futile and pursues meaningless sex. The cycles continue and each time, he makes changes to give his life some meaning, until one day, he meets someone who seems to be “replaying” as well.
There have been several stories with this “Groundhog Day” time travel trope. I know I’ve read at least one before, but I don’t remember the title or the year it was published. This novel may have been the first. And unlike the movie, Jeff’s life doesn’t stop replaying when he learns the true meaning of life or when he falls in love. There’s a twist to the replays which Jeff can’t control. There’s even one cycle where he tries to get scientists to figure out what is going on, which of course never gets resolved. The “replay” is a deep well of existential crisis and unforgiving despair. And when another person gets involved, it becomes that much more complex.
I liked Jeff’s character even though he comes across as a little old fashioned. He’s not a chauvinist or very toxically male. He just says things and hides his emotions in ways that you’d expect of someone growing up in the 50s and 60s. It made it tough to empathize with him, particularly during his hedonistic replay. But when he finally meets Pamela who is also replaying, I warmed up to him much better.
The prose is pretty straight forward. Unlike most fantasy novels, it’s not warm and fuzzy. It reads almost journalistically and I found myself zooming through without getting bogged down in the descriptions. Still, there are details that authenticate the time periods Jeff relives, making each replay that much more interesting.
I give this book four stars out of five. It surprised me. I really enjoyed it. It tugged on my own existential angst, making me reflect on some of my choices in my own life. Although at sixty, it may not be all that uncommon. I think it does signify the strength of the book, albeit all good literature, in that it makes one look at themselves with perhaps a new perspective outside of their comfort zone.