Friday, August 9, 2013


I finished reading REPLAY by the late Ken Grimwood (he passed away in 2003) yesterday evening. The novel was first published in 1987 and went on to win the 1988 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It's a novel about time travel, but it's not science fiction as no scientific explanation is ever given for the travels in time that occur in the book. It's fantasy in the tradition of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. In fact, the whole book reads like an extended episode of TZ which often addressed many of the themes and concerns found in Grimwood's novel. Aside from all of the genre pigeonholing though, REPLAY is a love story. And it's one of the best books I've read this year.

Forty-three-year-old Jeff Winston dies on the first page of the book. The year is 1988. Except, Jeff doesn't die. He awakes to find himself in his eighteen-year-old body in his college dorm room at Emory University, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The year is 1963 and Ken has complete knowledge of everything that is going to happen in the next twenty-five years.

He makes a fortune betting on the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes as well as the World Series that year. He increases his wealth by making savvy stock market purchases. He's soon a multi-millionaire. Oh, and he also tries to prevent the assassination of JFK by framing Lee Harvey Oswald prior to November 22nd. Even though Oswald is arrested, some other nut case shoots and kills President Kennedy. Jeff eventually marries and has a daughter. All is well in his life until he gets to October 18th, 1988. And he dies again.

And wakes up again, back in 1963, where he begins his life over again. The cycle of a twenty-five-year life span keeps repeating over and over again for Jeff. Live until 1988, die, come back to life in 1963 (or later, as the novel progresses) with full knowledge of all past lives and historical events.

During the course of one "replay" he meets a young woman, Pamela Philips, who has produced a hit science fiction film, Starsea, which has never existed in any of his past lives. Jeff soon deduces that Pamela is also a "replayer" and when he confronts her with the evidence, she confesses that she too is reliving her life over and over again. She died on the same date as Jeff, October 18th, 1988, just a few minutes after he did.

Jeff and Pamela begin the first of several lives together. In one lifetime, they put out a call for other "replayers" and find a fellow traveler, only to discover that he is an insane serial killer. In another life, they reveal their presence and knowledge of future events to the world, hoping that scientists and researchers will come forward to study them and provide some clue as to what's happening to them. Instead, they become prisoners of a government agency which uses their knowledge to change history on a global scale.

The "replays" have a catch however. Each time Jeff and Pamela start their lives over again, more and more time has passed in the original timeline to which they return each time. Jeff no longer wakes up as an 18-year-old. Instead, he arrives in his past life at points that are months, sometimes years, past his college days. And Pamela's replay starting points are even more accelerated than Jeff's. These "skews" mean that each lifetime together for the two becomes increasingly shorter and shorter. They both know the exact date and time of their respective deaths in each life. There's nothing they can do to change that or cheat the grim reaper.

I won't reveal the ending of this remarkable book except to say that it brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat. Grimwood makes a strong case that it's better to live for the future with all of its' unknown events and possibilities than to dwell in a past that has already happened (even multiple times). REPLAY is an engrossing, compelling, thought-provoking novel that will make you stop and take stock of your life. Highly recommended.

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