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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Lost Time Accidents: Time Is a Sphere

Time isn't a straight arrow, nor is it a flat circle (sorry, McConaughey) — rather, the "chronosphere" is just that: a sphere we're all trapped in. But what if the sphere could be traversed, manipulated, emerged from? If the past is memories, the future is dreams, and the presents slowly recedes into the past only due to the passage of time, what if all it took to navigate within the chronosphere is the human mind, well trained? If this sounds like the stuff you and your buddies talked about at 3 am after getting high in your dorm room, that's nearly the exact effect of reading The Lost Time Accidents, John Wray's new crazy, smashingly smart novel. But this is also a really funny novel — stopping just short of zany, but often with one-liners and scenes worthy of more than just a snort.

There are three stories at once. A guy named Waldy Tolliver is writing his family's history. He's been "excused from time," meaning he's stuck at 8:47 EST in presumably near-present day. He doesn't know why or how, and neither do we. We just accept it. 

The second story is the history Waldy is writing, and this is the meat of the novel — his great-grandfather, Ottokar Toula, living in a small town in Moravia at the turn of the 20th century discovers the secret to the universe — the Lost Time Accidents — but before he can tell anyone, he's hit by a car and dies. His two sons, one evil (Waldemar, for whom our stuck-in-time-biographer) is named, one good, Kaspar, both spend their lives in dramatically different ways trying to discover what their father had figured out. The story moves through the generations of the family, to Kaspar's son, Orson. Orson has a different relationship with family legacy, deciding to forgo physics to instead to write low-grade sci-fi. The ideas in one of his novels accidentally launches a Scientology-like cult called the United Church of Synchronology. 

Finally, the third story is our narrator/biographer telling us the story about how he met a beautiful woman named Hildegard Haven at a party before he got stuck in time. He then proceeds to carry on a scandalous (Mrs. Haven is married after all), wild romance with her, leading up to his becoming stuck in time.

Naturally, all the stories converge (to a singularity?) and I was riveted in the second half of this novel to see how it'd all work out, to see if the various characters would truly solve the mystery of the Lost Time Accidents (if there actually is a definitive solution). From how to deal with the "grandmother paradox" (if you travel back in time and kill your grandmother, don't you cease to exist? But then how could you have traveled back in time to kill your grandmother? You don't exist!) to the "Patent Clerk" (Einstein, but the family hates him, because he just barely beat them to discovering relativity) and dozens of other head-trippy ideas in between, this is a novel that is a refreshing, inventive new take on the tried-and-true time-travel novel.

If you're a fan of David Mitchell's head-warping stories, you likely won't be disappointed here. Despite the length, and some sagging of interest in the first half, this is a terrific novel if you're in to stories that are more than just a bit out there.

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