Sunday, April 9, 2023

Bid Time Return

aka “Somewhere In Time”
Richard Matheson
Completed 4/9/2023, Reviewed 4/9/2023
5 stars

I was really hesitant about this book.  I wasn’t up for a romance.  I never saw the film but I knew it had to do with time travel.  But I read it because it won the 1976 World Fantasy Award, so it was on my reading challenge.  Turns out I loved it.  It’s an amazing book about obsession and desperation.  The obsessive quality of the romance on the part of the main character, Richard Collier, made it a page turner.  And, as in his books I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, the prose is simply phenomenal.  

It is 1971.  Richard has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  He decides to travel across country, sort of as a bucket list adventure, finishing out his limited time as he wants.  He’s single, never married, never in love.  He stops at an old seaside hotel near San Diego and gets a room.  There he sees a picture of a famous actress from turn of the century.  He immediately falls in love with her.  He becomes obsessed, reading everything he can about her in old theater books.  He finds a clue that makes him believe that he went back in time and met her in 1896.  So he tries to devise a way to go back in time and fulfill that historical side note that might indicate that he really did accomplish this. 

The method of time travel is interesting, using a hypnotic self-will to accomplish this.  I had to remember that this is more of a fantasy than a science fiction novel.  That made the suspension of disbelief easier to accept.  I also had to buy into the notion of love at first sight, and in this case, obsession.  Something in the reading of this made that easy to buy.  

The book is told as journal entries, long journal entries, recounting the few days in 1971 and then in 1896 in which this all happens.  So the voice is first person present.  I worked well for me, adding the immediacy of the narrator’s plight and desire.  In a way, I became obsessed with him finding the actress, Elise and trying to convince her of his honest intentions.  And even though you know how it’s going to end, it’s still devastating.  

I was surprised by the character of Elise, the actress.  She was a strong, independent woman throughout the book.  I liked her because she approached this relationship with trepidation for quite a while.  Later, her reasons for giving into the passion were believable.  And I really liked her command over her mother and manager, even though there were still Victorian mores dominating polite society.  

I give this book five stars out of five.  Matheson is simply a master wordsmith.  This book was readable and lovely.  In contrast to the last book I read, Matheson knows how to use prose to move a plot forward, not derail it.  Now I’m interested in the film to see if it’s all schmaltzy or if they captured the intensity of the obsession.

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