Wednesday, February 25, 2009


This novel gave me a lot to think about. Conventional wisdom says that people would do things differently if they were able to live over again.

In this book, the author speculates that we would not want to do it all over again if we had the chance.

The main character, Jeff, has a heart attack in 1988 and dies - only to wake up in 1963 as an eighteen year old freshman in college. He relives the entire twenty five years again - through the Kennedy assassination and Star Wars - only to start all over again. There is no reason given why he has to relive so many times. No one (in his immediate life)understands what he's going through. If/when he talked about it with anyone, they would think he was crazy. No one questions how he makes great predictions about stocks like IBM or Apple, however.

I won't go through the entire plot (particularly the ending) but it was thought-provoking for me. At one point in the beginning, Jeff returns to his parents' home with everything intact. His Dad (who later dies from emphysema) is still smoking. His younger sister is a cheerful pre-teen - when Jeff knows that she will face many difficulties, including two divorces.

What's thought-provoking for me is the realization that there is so little in our lives that we actually control. And that there is nothing we can control in the people we love. We can have conversations about things, we can set boundaries - but in the end (to follow the metaphor) - our parents will still smoke, our siblings will go through rough times. And the world will still move on as it always has.

At one point, during his first time reliving his life, Jeff meets his future wife in the same place they had met before. But this time, he is a totally different person, wealthy and (seemingly) snobby. He had found wealth by betting on the world series and Kentucky Derby winners. Not realizing that she knows nothing about him, his knowledge of her comes off as creepy. They don't make a connection and he's left trying to find someone else (in that iteration) he can trust.

He does try to make some changes, to prevent Kennedy from being assassinated, for example. But Kennedy is still murdered - but by someone else instead of Lee Harvey Oswald. In other words, there is only so much that one person can affect - and one intervention in time impacts other interventions downstream.

These types of loop stories are fairly common in science fiction (and tv shows). There's a part of human wistfulness - we want to go back and make different decisions. Sell off stocks before they tank. Save a person's life.

But after reading this book, and how emotionally difficult it is for the main character - I realize that in reality, I don't think I would ever want to go back to my freshman year of college (or high school). One would think the endless possibilities might be nice.

On the other hand, just as I would have to go back through all that joy (and there has been a lot of joy over the years) - there would also be all that pain. Readjusting my expectations (of the world, of myself). Suffering from clinical depression. Leaving mormonism and dealing with the pain that caused my family. Watching my loved ones make choices I disagreed with, impacting their health, impacting our relationships. Figuring out that I was trying to manipulate and control people I love(d).

In other words - all the highs and all the lows. I've learned from the lows - but I don't want to go back there. All the amazing things that have happened, and what I could change, I'm not sure would be worth going back through those valleys.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the main reasons that I hope reincarnation does not exist. I cannot imagine having to be 13 again.