When you write a weekly column, you’re constantly on the lookout for trends to latch onto and write about, and I thought I spotted one recently when I came across promotions for two literary time travel stories a few seconds apart.
The first was the new HBO adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which looks set to deepen the tearful, slightly chilling romance in six episodes that the original hour-and-47-minute film adaptation couldn’t handle. .
I’m actually a little scared to watch the show given the puddle of emotions the movie managed to squeeze out of me.
The other time travel tale is Emma Straub’s recently published novel, “This Time Tomorrow”, in which the main character Alice is transported from her 40th birthday to her 16th birthday, with the possibility of remaking a pivotal day of his life armed with the benefit of hindsight.
Looking for the third legally mandated example to justify a trending piece, I quickly realized that it would be foolish to try to claim that time travel accounts are some kind of trend, because, in reality , time travel stories have always been a constant. since the concept was popularized by HG Wells with his classic “The Time Machine”.
This month I watched two more time travel TV series. The first was the really bonkers “Beforeigners” (also on HBO and originally aired in Norway), in which people from other times suddenly start appearing in the present. If you want to see how a Viking shield maiden from 1000 AD turns into a homicidal cop, check it out.
The other was “Shining Girls” (Apple+) starring Elisabeth Moss, and based on Lauren Beukes’ novel in which Moss’ character tries to track down the man who attempted to murder her, a man whose journey into the time is literally fueled by the women he kills.
While you’d think the possibilities of using time travel as a storytelling tool would have been exhausted by now, we (and by “we” I guess I mean “I”) can’t get enough.
Straub’s “This Time Tomorrow” exemplifies one of the main plot lines of time travel stories, the notion that we may have a chance to do it again that could erase or at least alter negative future consequences. Who among us can’t instantly think of a number of times in our lives where we could wish for a rewind button to make a different choice at a pivotal moment.
No spoilers here, but “This Time Tomorrow” explores how meaningful moments may not be immediately apparent, and no matter how much foresight and intentionality we can bring to our past, the future remains largely beyond our control. Alice’s struggle to direct her destiny through time has the reader nervous in the second half of the book.
Interestingly, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” explores time travel as a sort of curse, as Henry and Clare’s romance is complicated by the fact that Henry is periodically dragged into another era without notice or control. Henry must also live with the knowledge of his fate and that he is ultimately powerless against his fate.
Although Straub’s Alice is not in the same dire straits as Henry, there still seems to be a cost to playing with the linear trajectory of our lives, and Alice finds this fact inevitable. The trick is to come to terms with it.
I think it’s because ultimately, whatever we do to change our trajectories, we can’t escape, and that will do more than anything else to determine the shapes of our lives.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities”.
Biblioracle book recommendations
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you read
1. “The Dove in the Belly” by Jim Grimsley
2. “The inexplicable survival of a fortunately fallible child” by Gary C. Mele 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 Lane Dearinger
— Robert J., Orland Park
Judging by this list, Robert likes small, independent presses, so it feels like he’s allowed to lean into that angle. “My Volcano” by John Elizabeth Stintzi, 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 do.
1. “The Island of the Women of the Sea” by Lisa View
2. “Such a fun age” by Kiley Reid
3. “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown
4. “The Big One” by Kristin Hannah
5. “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
— Amy H., Glen Ellyn
It’s only a matter of time before Hannah Pittard reaches an extremely wide readership, so it’s a good idea to start with her first novel to see what’s to come, “The Fates Will Find Their Way”.
1. “The Painted Drum” by Louise Erdrich
2. “Apples never fall” by Liane Moriarty
3. “A Welcome Murder” by Robin Yocum
4. “Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead
5. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles
—Catherine J., Chicago
Catherine sounds like a reader who will appreciate the epic personal story of the titular narrator/character of Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black.”
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Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to [email protected].