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Expiration Date Paperback – March 30, 2010
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Swierczynski (Severance Package, 2007) originally planned to write this beguiling, pulp-style mix of fantasy and mystery as a magazine serial, but when the New York Times Magazine bowed out of the fiction business, he turned it into a stand-alone novel. Mickey Wade, an unemployed journalist, moves into his grandfather’s apartment in the family’s old Philadelphia neighborhood and, after gobbling a few aspirin to fight a hangover, finds himself beamed back to the day of his birth in 1972. Turns out those weren’t your garden-variety aspirin but, rather, the pills a crackpot scientist had created as part of a government-funded plan to investigate out-of-body travel. Only, in Mickey’s case, he can only go back to the early 1970s. But there’s plenty to do there: if he can somehow divert the young boy who will eventually murder Mickey’s father, he can change his family’s history. Swierczynski cleverly melds the thriller and fantasy elements (especially the notion of nonlinear time), producing a thoroughly readable, suspenseful romp that evokes John D. MacDonald’s pulp classic The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything. --Bill Ott
“Duane Swierczynski continues to carve out his own unique literary presence in a fascinating fusion of mystery, suspense, and sophisticated dark fantasy fiction. Expiration Date is a skillful, fast-paced, rock'em, jolt'em, spook'em, leave-em-laughin' story with believable characters and a pedal to the floor narrative drive. Top of the line entertainment.” ―Tom Piccirilli, author of Shadow Season
“Duane Swierczynski is one of the best thriller writers in America, and probably my favorite. I blazed through Expiration Date in one sitting and I loved it.” ―James Frey, New York Times bestselling author of Bright Shiny Morning and A Million Little Pieces
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But time traveling isn’t all about pandering, wild-eyed scientists and Bob Zemeckis films (though that would be quite wonderful). Sometimes it’s about life gone wild, about life gone wrong. About when reality embraces its inner drunken sorority sister on a bender in Cabo, flashing its goodies to every appreciative camera, only to awaken the next morning with a massive headache, next to a dead man, a saddle, and an expired jar of Grey Poupon. Time travel can fix this; it’s the official designated driver for life’s little drunken episodes. The rewind button on the DVD player. A mulligan.
Case in point. You just lost your job writing investigative articles for the local weekly. Really hard hitting exposés, not that cat-found-in-tree stuff. But with that pesky InterWebs, print journalism is dying quicker than David Hasselhoff’s singing career. So you’re suddenly unemployed. You have no money, no prospects, no place to live. Your last few dollars are spent on beer and sugary snack foods.
Your family looks out for you. Kind of. Seems grandpa recently fell ill and found himself at the intersection of Comatose and Non-Responsive, freeing up his place now that he’s warming a catheter at the local hospital. So you squat there with your mother’s blessing, hopefully just long enough to get yourself back on your feet. But the stress is killing you, giving you a headache which feels like an elephant is trying to mate with your cranium. So you ransack grandpa’s medicine cabinet, searching for a pain reliever, something to chemically castrate that amorous elephant. Bingo. A bottle of Tylenol. Bottle looks old, but the pills look okay. You wash down four with a swig of beer.
Suddenly you feel sleepy, as if your eyes are being massaged by cotton balls. A nap—what a brilliant idea. You don’t fall asleep as much as pass out. Only to wake up instantly in the year you were born. As Doc Brown would say, Great Scott! Now there’s one side effect not listed on the Tylenol label. Being the inquisitive sort—I mean, you are a journalist—you start exploring your new surroundings. This is the neighborhood where you grew up. Your parents live right over…there. You sneak up on the porch and take a peek through the front window. Your mother looks so young, newborn you warming her arms. And your father is…alive. Great Scott!
For the most part, time traveling in science fiction is a bankrupt idea, often nothing more than lame wish fulfillment, an idea which indulges everyone’s secret hope for a second chance to right wrongs. Mostly it’s after school special territory; a deus ex machina that allows Hannah Montana to travel back two days earlier in order to put some preventative Clearasil on a lurking future pimple. It’s a second chance, for clear skin.
Unless you write about time travel like Duane Swierczynski does in his novel Expiration Date, and then traveling back to your birth year is just utterly kick-ass. Like a delicious meal capped off with a belch that registers 7.5 on the diaphragm earthquake scale, being both incredibly fulfilling and immensely enjoyable. Swierczynski writes like a man possessed, with a fervor and intense imagination that immediately grabs your attention before pulling you along on an exhilarating ride.
And what a ride it is. Exciting. Poignant. Suspenseful. Joyous. Expiration Date features the wide and wonderful range of human emotions, from cheering to crying, laughing to catharsis. People often talk about novels being like a rollercoaster ride, filled with hair-raising twists and turns. What is typically overlooked is that a rollercoaster is often singular in nature; it’s a cohesive loop in which the beginning and end are generally in the same place, linked together. Which is not unlike the concept of time. Swierczynski’s novel has this singular nature, this cohesion. Expiration Date is not a novel about time travel; it’s a novel about time. About the importance of time, about the interconnection of time, and about how beginnings and endings are relative.
This is a time travel novel done intelligently. It doesn’t feel like a gimmick, like some cheap thrill. The characters resonate, their nostalgia is easily relatable to the reader. There is often a loneliness and sadness when confronting the past, of despairing when you see where things went wrong, and Swierczynski really highlights these feelings, infusing the narrative with a surprising poignancy.
Exaggeration comes naturally to me. Like a clown with balloon animals. But I could never exaggerate how utterly enjoyable Expiration Date was, nor could I exaggerate just how talented Swierczynski is. Let’s just sum it up this way: one of the best books of 2010. And you don’t even need a Delorean to enjoy it.
The opening sentences are a great hook into this story:
"See that body sprawled on the hardwood floor, marinating in a pool of his own blood?
After getting that far, I couldn't put the book down. And my high expectations weren't disappointed with this original - and often touching - thriller about a down-on-his-luck journalist, Mickey Wade, who takes four Tylenol and travels back in time. Trapped in a wraithlike and disempowered state, Mickey must unravel a murder mystery from the past. Cue twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end.
Another reviewer has compared Swierczynski to Charles Bukowski - a great way of describing his supremely readable prose, which combines human warmth with unpredictable quirkiness. I've been on a Swierczynski jag since I picked up THE BLONDE and I highly recommend this particular brand of awesome noir kool-aid. If you're already a fan, pick up EXPIRATION DATE for your next fix. And if you've not discovered him yet, just buy the bunch and treat yourself!