Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Review: Replay

After reading and loving The Prestige, and reading and having mixed feelings about Mythago Wood, I decided to hop back on the World Fantasy Award winning train and check out another winner, Replay by Ken Grimwood.  It turns out those World Fantasy Award folks might know what they are doing.

What if you could live your life over again, retaining all knowledge and experience you acquired in your first go around?

Replay is the story of Jeff Winston, a 43 year old man who at the beginning of the novel dies of a heart attack, then inexplicably reawakens to find himself alive and well in his college dorm room at the age of 18, with all his previous memories intact. Upon figuring out that the following 25 years of existence weren't just some crazy, extremely detailed dream, Jeff does what anyone (even Biff Tannen) would do if they had exclusive knowledge of the future: bet a shit load of money on a variety of sporting events and strike it rich.

After years of luxurious and heart healthy living Jeff once again dies of a heart-attack on the same date and time of his first life, only to reawaken again at age 18 only a few hours after his first initial return. Before too long, Jeff realizes that he is replaying the same life cycle over and over, except that he is increasingly losing time at the beginning of each successive cycle.

During one of his replays, Jeff notices a film that never existed on previous replays, created by an unknown filmmaker by the name of Pamela Phillips, and directed, produced, and acted by Hollywood big-shots who shouldn't get their big breaks for at least a few more years. That's when Jeff realizes he's not the only replayer out there, experiencing this strange phenomenon.

I can't deny the fact that Replay reminded me a lot of the film Groundhog Day, except the novel takes place over a much larger time scale.  Like Bill Murray's character, Jeff also indulges in some wild, hedonistic behavior, and takes advantage of the situation to make his life more comfortable and entertaining. Not that I can blame the guy, I would probably do the same things myself.  The kicker was that initially, the book followed a somewhat predictable course, that while entertaining, didn't exactly break new ground. However, once fellow replayer Pamela Phillips enters the novel, things pick up, and novel takes some very unexpected directions.

Jeff and Pam think of themselves as soul mates and their love story is one that many would envy; being able to share multiple lives together is a dream of many lovers, and Jeff and Pam get to live that dream over and over.  But as the replays start to stack up, the the time loss increases with each subsequent replay, and sharing their lives together gets increasingly difficult.  The ways they go about sharing their lives, and loving each other across time and distance is quite powerful and remarkable. I almost never get sucked into love stories, but with Replay I was incredibly sucked in, in ways I never expected, and found it to be the most impressive piece of this novel.  Grimwood evokes some very powerful and touching moments that will cause a stir in even the most black hearted soul.

Not only did Grimwood write a novel with a concept that captures the attention, and a love story that captures the heart, but he also wrote a compelling story that will capture the mind.  The meaning of life is a question that has plagued many a mind, and while Replay does not go so far as to tell one how it should be done, but it does give the reader a lot to think about in terms of ways to give it your best shot.

Going into this one I figured I would be getting a fun, somewhat engaging novel that would provide some distraction and relief from my otherwise dull textual reading for school.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an incredibly powerful novel that has left a lasting impression on me.  Will this novel keep you up reading waaaaaaay past your bedtime? Yes. Will this novel give you cause to to think and analyze its ideas and meanings when you should definitely be thinking and focusing on other things? Yes.  Will this novel cause you to weepingly call your significant other in the dead of night just to say "I love you"? Uh, no comment...

If not for the power, and magic of the aforementioned The PrestigeReplay would find itself sitting firmly at the top of the "Best of" heap for my reading this year.  Still, it is among good company.  Replay is a true gem of the fantasy genre, and an unexpectedly amazing read.  This is another book that I look forward to revisiting sometime down the road, as I think new meanings and discoveries can be made with each reading. This one gets the full on Battle Hymns epic recommendation.  Fantastic stuff.

Grade: A+


Bryce L. said...

I've actually never heard of this, but looks like I'll have to add it to the list.

Word Verification right now = doutche (close enough)

Had to share. :)

Ryan said...

Yeah, I had never heard of it either until I started perusing the list of World Fantasy Award winners. I think I'll have to pepper a few more from that list into my reading for 2012.

Wow- word verification is getting snippy!

Niall Alexander said...

Huh. This sounds awesome.

Great review, Ryan. Will have to see if I can't talk someone into buying me a copy of Replay for Christmas...

Ryan said...

Thanks sir, its definitely worth a read.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You have me convinced. This is going in my "Must Read" pile. What a great review, Ryan. I know personally I would have a hard time giving a synopsis of the story but you articulated it incredibly well and it's easy to see how much this book impacted/touched you through your writing. Nice work!

Ryan said...

Anon- Thanks so much for the kind words. Glad I could impress you so thoroughly. I'm glad to hear that Replay will be finding its way into another "must read" pile. Three for three in this comment thread! I'm excited to hear what other folks think about it.