When you write a weekly column, you are constantly on the lookout for trends you can grab onto and write about, and I thought I spotted one recently when I ran across promotions for two literary time travel narratives within seconds of each other.
The first was the new HBO adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which looks like it’s going to take the weepy, slightly creepy romance to depths over six episodes that the original hour and 47-minute movie adaptation could not manage.
I’m actually a little afraid to watch the series given the emotional puddle the movie managed to make out of me.
The other time travel narrative is Emma Straub’s recently released novel, “This Time Tomorrow,” in which the main character Alice is transported from her 40th birthday back to her 16th birthday, with the chance to redo a pivotal day in her life armed with the benefit of hindsight.
In search of the third example mandated by law to justify a trend piece, I quickly realized that it would be foolish to try to argue that time travel narratives are some kind of trend, because, in reality, time travel narratives have been a constant ever since the concept was popularized by H.G. Wells with his classic, “The Time Machine.”
Just this month, I’ve watched two other time travel TV series. The first was the truly 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 1,000 A.D. transitions to homicide cop, check it out.
The other was “Shining Girls” (Apple+) starring Elisabeth Moss, and based on the novel by Lauren Beukes in which Moss’s character tries to track down the man who tried to murder her, a man whose time travel is literally fueled by the women he kills.
Even though you would think the possibilities for using time travel as a storytelling device would have been exhausted by now, we (and by “we” I suppose I mean “I”) can’t get enough of them.
Straub’s “This Time Tomorrow” illustrates one of the chief intrigues of time travel stories, the notion that we may get a chance at a redo that might erase or at least alter future negative consequences. Who among us can’t instantly think of a number of times in our lives where we might wish for a rewind button to make a different choice at a pivotal moment.
No spoilers here, but “This Time Tomorrow” explores how the moments that are meaningful may not be immediately apparent, and no matter what foresight and intentionality we may bring to our past, the future remains largely out of our control. Alice’s struggle to steer her fate across time has the reader on edge through the latter half of the book.
Interestingly, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” explores time travel as a kind of curse as Henry and Clare’s romance is complicated by Henry periodically being lurched into a different time without prior notice or control. Henry also must live with the knowledge of his fate, and that he’s ultimately powerless over his destiny.
While Straub’s Alice isn’t in the same dire straits as Henry, it seems as if there’s always a cost to messing with the linear trajectory of our lives, and Alice finds this fact unavoidable. The trick is to reconcile with it.
I think this is because in the end, no matter what we may do to change our trajectories, we cannot escape ourselves, and this 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.”
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read
1. “The Dove in the Belly” by Jim Grimsley
2. “The Inexplicable Survival of a Happily Fallible Child” by Gary C. Mele Jr.
3. “The Animal Girl: Two Novellas 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 from this list, Robert is into small/independent presses, which feels like permission to lean in on that angle. “My Volcano” by John Elizabeth Stintzi, published by Two Dollar Radio, is the kind of book that makes indie publishers so important, and I think Robert will find it as compelling as I did.
1. “The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See
2. “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
3. “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown
4. “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah
5. “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
— Amy H., Glen Ellyn
It’s only a matter of time until Hannah Pittard breaks through to an extremely wide readership, so it’s a good idea to start with her first novel to see what’s coming, “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 looks like a reader who will enjoy the epic personal story of the narrator/titular character of Esi Edugyan’s “Washington Black.”
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to firstname.lastname@example.org.