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The Lost Time Accidents: A Novel Hardcover – February 9, 2016
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“For this reader, at least, a novel is a success if it causes time to warp, to bend and deform, if it breaks time apart and puts it back together again in an interesting way. John Wray does all of the above, with wide-ranging intelligence and boundless verbal energy. Any experiment that Wray conducts is likely to be worth a reader's time, and The Lost Time Accidents is certainly no exception.” ―Charles Wu, The New York Times Book Review
“The Lost Time Accidents is a wonderful, delirious, layered confection . . . It is a conga line of a novel, a full brass band of a novel, an epic: not only because of its scale . . . but also because it samples wildly from other genres, and contains smaller universes within itself, studded like chocolate chips within the larger story.” ―Annalisa Quinn, NPR
“On the sentence level, the book is absolutely delightful . . . The Lost Time Accidents crackles with exquisite impressions of eras long gone and close to home and is so immersive that it's sometimes difficult to pull yourself back to the real world.” ―Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Everything is here in The Lost Time Accidents: science, religion, family, history, sexism, literature, cinema, World War II, pickles, and pulps. And seeded among the cycles and mutations is the essence of relativity: Here’s the world in entirety. What will you make of it?” ―Samantha Hunt, The Washington Post
"The Lost Time Accidents is a full-dress symphony . . . an uncanny blend of science fiction, theoretical physics, historical drama, and what may well be the oddest coming-of-age story we see this year." ―Steven Donoghue, The National (UAE)
"A big, enveloping story that’s also tenderly wrought, The Lost Time Accidents whips through Viennese pastry shops, cluttered libraries, and the chambers of its narrator’s sentimental heart.” ―Maddie Crum, The Huffington Post
"[A] sweeping historical novel that's also a love story but is rooted in time-travel science fiction and takes on as its subject the meaning of time itself. This is no small endeavor. It's hard not to admire this book, the mass and richness of which is a testament to the meticulous, dedicated work of its talented author . . . Wray's prose is breathtakingly evocative . . . [D]elightfully ridiculous, reminiscent of Michael Chabon at his madcap best.” ―Janelle Brown, The Los Angeles Times
"[A]n arresting mosaic of science fiction, history, and philosophy which proves Wray’s (Lowboy, 2010) remarkable malleability and talent.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“With this darkly playful chronicle of three generations of crackpots and criminals, losers and visionaries, John Wray has written a book of eerie magic: Waldy Tolliver’s love letter to the mysterious Mrs. Haven is a secret love letter to fiction itself. A mischievous epic, luminous and strange.” ―Kiran Desai
“For a while now, John Wray has been writing as if let in on the secret history of the world, paying attention to moments we all know, but at the point where we’ve stopped looking. So of course only he would find the crazy quilt universe of sci-fi, war, mystery, doomed love and eerie foresight that was always lurking deep in the grand old novel in letters. This is literature as high wire act without the net; epic in scale, even bigger in heart.” ―Marlon James
“John Wray gets his Calvino on, his Mitchell on, his Murakami on, and even his Joyce on in this spectacular rattlebag of a novel. The Lost Time Accidents circulates through time and geography--from New York to outer space to Central Europe--and eventually ebbs eloquently back to the essential questions of who we are and why we're here. Who says the novel is dead? Just smash the clocks and open this book.” ―Colum McCann
“John Wray is the next wave of American fiction.” ―Jonathan Lethem
About the Author
John Wray is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, Lowboy, The Right Hand of Sleep, and Canaan's Tongue. He was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists in 2007. The recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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The Toula/Tolliver family has been searching for the missing pages of Ottokar Toula's "formula" for time travel which he entrusted to his mistress minutes before his death at the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel follows his brother, son and grandson as they search for the secret of the "Accidents". The novel is narrated by great-grandson, Waldy Tolliver, son of science fiction writer Orson Card Tolliver (who's name will not be lost on science fiction fans), as he recounts the family lore to his ex-mistress, "Mrs. Haven". How all these characters and time periods inter-connect is what is so much fun about this novel! You could even say that the novel actually DOES time-travel back and forth among the generations.
I wouldn't be surprised if the book is full of allusions to science fiction/time travel that I missed, but I did recognize the similarity of Waldy's hoarding and reclusive twin aunts to the real-life Collyer brothers, and the allusion of having a science fiction writer (in this case inadvertently) begin a religion/cult (in this case called the United Church of Synchronology).
I highly recommend this delightfully entertaining reading experience. Time did seem to fly as I was reading it!
I didn't love this (4/5), and the execution didn't always work terribly well (4/5), but, I'm going with 5 for Wray's sheer originality and ingenuity. Because what this book manages to do is somehow weave together questions about historical memory (i.e. how do we atone for the sins of our forbears? how are psychoses, beliefs, passions passed down through generations?), a challenge to Einstein's theory of relativity (!! synchronicity), a mind-bending structure that spirals inwards in time, a century's worth of events, and an intelligent, ingenious exploration of the ethics of science and of the nature of time.
Above all, The Time Accidents is a story about time in all its dimensions: physical, experiential, historical, psychological, poetical, mathematical, etc. And who doesn't love/isn't intrigued/vexed/lost/beholden to/perplexed in/by time?!?!
Time, the supposed 4th dimension, only moves in one direction (as we experience it). But, mathematically, if it is just another dimension, it should be traversable, like space (also, in physics, time is just another coordinate in the spacetime fabric). Physically, we're always in seemingly the same time. Yet time can pass slower or faster, depending on how we're feeling/what we are doing (same in physics, it turns out: the "passing" of time is related to an object's movement through space). If you think about time as coordinates (x,y,z,t), and take an object that is first located at coordinate A, and then at B, then time begins to look a lot like movement, the coordinate that describes motion. What does this even mean? I have no clear idea - it's virtually impossible, really, to capture time, though many have tried, in all disciplines.
Then-what about dreams and memory? Memory can take us back in time. After all, isn't the world as we know it just our perception? And our memories are mental events, like anything else we process from experience. Is memory the ultimate time-travel? If so, what about historical memory? What about that which has been passed down through generations, what about concepts that have encrusted themselves with time that now seem "given", when in fact they are just artifacts of time and reenactment?
The Time Accidents is one of those books that won't give you an answer (a definite plus from my perspective), but rather lead you in a journey of questions-not only those explicitly asked in the story, but also those the reader is inspired to imagine on their own. For me, this translated into a crazed book-buying binge about things like octopuses (they are radial creatures after all - how do they experience space, and thus time, since spacetime is one and the same). And, into furiously printing out a slew of articles about stuff like "mathematical philosophy of time in Minkowskian space" (I'm a math geek, as all math teachers should be). Your inspiration could take many other forms, depending on your interests - there's the Nazi question, the question about how science intersects with ethics, the question of familial guilt and psychosis, the question about the nature of dreams and memory, you name it, Wray's got you covered.
The book is definitely an investment (of time, incidentally), a dense 500 pages. It's not perfect (for example, Wray's wittiness is at times self-conscious and somewhat awkward), but it's one of the most curiosity-inducing books I've ever read, and for that alone, I would HIGHLY recommend it!!
A plot summary makes for puzzlement as it's all over the place. . . .but it works. . . you just have to commit to it, and enjoy the wild ride.