Monday, April 20, 2015
Book review: Replay
Remember the 1993 Harold Ramis film, Groundhog's Day?
If you've seen the movie, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, you'll recall that the protagonist, Phil Connors (Murray), is stuck in a temporal loop that requires him to relive one particular day in his life until he gets it right.
Ken Grimwood's novel, Replay, first published in 1986, reminded me of that film. When I read Grimwood's novel, and realized its premise, my first thought was of the Ramis flick.
The comparison is manifestly unfair, of course. Grimwood published his novel seven years previous to the film. So to the extent that the concept of reliving one's life while retaining memories is original, the credit goes to Grimwood.
You see, as the novel opens, the protagonist, Jeff Winston, a 43-year-old radio journalist, dies of a massive heart attack while on the phone with his wife only to return to his life 20 years earlier as a college student in Atlanta, retaining the memories from his previous existence.
Something of a mind-blowing concept, no? If you had a chance to do it all over again, with foreknowledge of what is to come, how would your life choices differ? Jeff Winston gets the opportunity to find out. Several times.
Over the course of the novel, Jeff repeats his life multiple times, each time choosing a different path: fabulously rich tycoon (his foreknowledge of events allows him to make millions betting on sporting events), ascetic hermit, humanitarian, and more. Whenever he reaches the age of 43, he is again felled by a heart attack. However, after several repetitions, he notices that each return to life advances his starting age slightly. As the novel progresses, Jeff and his reincarnating companion, Pamela Phillips, begin to wonder what will happen when they return to life at the precise moment of their respective deaths.
I enjoyed this book, but mostly because of the originality of plot and story line. Grimwood is imaginative and readers will recognize the love that the author put into his work. (Grimwood himself succumbed to a heart attack in 2003. Kinda eerie, eh?)
But I found the novel's prose to be overburdened and awkward, and frankly, I found the characters to be rather flat. And then, the novel's core supposition (dealing with the limits of free will in a clockwork Universe) seems contradictory and un-thought-out.
Replay is a fast and worthwhile read, though. I'd recommend it as a great vacation book. Good beach reading.