Jeff Winston was 43 and trapped in a tepid marriage and a dead-end job, waiting for that time when he could be truly happy, when he died.
And when he woke and he was 18 again, with all his memories of the next 25 years intact. He could live his life again, avoiding the mistakes, making money from his knowledge of the future, seeking happiness.
Until he dies at 43 and wakes up back in college again…
Undo all your mistakes… That’s one the most common fantasies in the world. One time or the other, we all look back at life and wish we could’ve taken a different path. If only we’d done X, or Y had happened, life would be so great and perfect. But we can’t.
Well, Replay is the story of a man who got that chance. The book puts a nice new spin on travel, because it isn’t time travel per se, but more of a rebirth, or well, replay. Now, this isn’t anything new now, what with X-Men : Days of Future Past, but this book was way before that. And more than that, Replay is what Days of Future Past could’ve been. Something more than your run of the mill go back in time and save the world fare (not that DoFP was bad).
Because the first thing you notice is that there isn’t a calamity or a big problem. It’s not a case of heroes going back in time to save the world, or universe, or multiverse or spacetime. This is the story of a man who finds inexplicably, almost randomly, back as his 18 year old self, and what he does with this opportunity.
The book takes the predictable enough path – his knowledge of the future allows Jeff to make loads of money really fast, with stuff like stocks, betting with bookies etc. But as it turn out, money doesn’t solve all problems. For example, his attempt to initiate a relationship with his (earlier life’s) wife Linda ends disastrously.
And that’s the main thing I took away from this novel – you can never, ever, do it perfectly. Over and over Jeff gets the chance to replay his life. And he does great things with it, but in the end it is never enough. There are always regrets and what-ifs. Sometimes he fails, sometimes he doesn’t. He falls in love, has fights, experiences joys and sorrows. And in the end, even though it is in one way a really remarkable life, in the end… it’s a life, just like any other, with its highs and lows.
The book has a somewhat dry and impersonal style, but it felt suited to the story, as events pile on events, and all the lives start to feel the same, a wheel turning over and over. There are some truly poignant moments in the story, and the author has done a really great job of exploring the ramifications of what such a life(s) would be. Too often, books come up with an idea, a quirk, a fantastic twist, only to have it fade in the background. That doesn’t happen here.
Though there aren’t any other major character to speak of – the constant death and rebirth necessarily means that almost everyone just starts to feel distant – though there are a few surprises! But the protagonist comes across as a genuine man, his anguish at seeing all his accomplishments and joys wiped off every time a very real pain.
There isn’t an overarching plot to speak of, and it isn’t missed. The book is great as it is. The ending, when it comes, feels really bittersweet, and yet I can’t think of a better way to end the book, in a way it almost comes full circle.
All in all, a really cool premise handled really well. I’m so glad the book didn’t go the action-adventure-awesome way.
So yeah, so long as you don’t come expecting a popcorn-crunching adventure story like Terminator or the latest X-Men, I’m sure you should really give Replay a go.