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A novel by Kevin A. Kuhn
(2017, Beaver's Pond Press)

A man going through mid-life depression is approached by someone with the ability to travel between realities, allowing him to experience the best moments of his life and correct the worst.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
December 28th, 2019 to January 4th, 2020


This book starts slow, and there is way too much day-to-day mundane activity that is difficult to hold the interest -however, the ending is well worth sticking through it. I want to know what world George lives in, where people are so open and talk so easily about their feelings to each other, even family members, because that is not my experience, and it made the book feel less realistic because of it. But once things start happening in George’s life, the pace picks up, and things get really interesting. It’s not really about the events, though, but more in how George reacts to it, sometimes in denial, sometimes going to hide in the other realities. The end was a terrific series of emotions and events that was written like a pro. However, I don’t see how the very last pages could work. If the device only allows people to travel back by 25 years, how will that help George start over? Unless Shiloh lied or gave him a different model at the end.

Spoiler review:

The first half of the book didn’t do much for me either way. It was interesting enough that it kept me reading, but not enough that I was bound to recommend it to anybody. George’s life is as normal as they come. He’s too busy to do anything meaningful, hasn’t the energy to put into his job to get recognition, he barely connects with his wife, and his kids are at the age where they want their independence. It’s presented in a way that makes us feel sorry for George, that his life isn’t that interesting. But it makes for a difficult read, just because there’s not much going on.

Even when he meets Shiloh on the train, the interest level doesn’t go up. Shiloh’s monologues are long and interesting, but completely unrealistic, and even though George comments on this time and again, it’s hard to get into this kind of story, because of that. But I really liked Shiloh, from his funny physics-based T-shirt slogans to his rock music (most of which end up being the chapter titles), and his philosophy of life. He explains that the secret to life, the universe and everything is love, and makes a great case for it. Every topic he discusses looks like a passionate wiki article as he describes life, star formation, music, emotions, war, evolution, and of course love. The comments on war and evolution, especially talking about how fewer people have died in war since World War II than ever before, even though it seems like things are worse, were echoed in Sapiens, another book I just finished reading. I loved his comments on family, just being there for them even if George doesn’t understand his kids anymore. It’s that understanding that allows him to survive the turmoil that follows in the second half of the book.

George’s life comes under attack three times, in sequence, and each is a blow to his morale and his ability to define himself as a good parent. He asks the hard questions, like is he spending enough time trying to connect with his wife and son and daughter, what does he want out of work, and what does he enjoy most about his life -what would he relive again and again if he could get the chance.

Because Shiloh gives him an Apple Watch with a special feature: the ability to visit alternate realities, and affect their outcomes. It won’t change anything in his current reality, and he can only experience ten single-day visits. Of course his first tries are to go back to the days he remembers as most glorious, like a picnic with his new wife and the day he hit a hole-in-one, or to save his daughter from the accident, but ultimately those are unfulfilling. He then gets obsessed with a boy he didn’t save when he was younger and nearly got caught in a gang war. It takes him three tries to save the young boy’s life, and he is happy, and wonders if Shiloh is grooming him for this kind of future, which of course is true.

Shiloh explains later that he is from an alternate reality, and he was given the voluntary task of taking over his other self’s life to bring about a better future -not just here, but for the multiverse itself, which people across it found was losing life, probably through lack of compassion. I find it a little too easy that he tells George that he doesn’t have to mentor anybody the way that he’s mentoring George, essentially giving George a free ride. But still, it’s not that hard to accept.

The first hardship that occurs is the car accident where his daughter Amanda loses an eye. It’s disheartening to go through that experience, and George uses one of his time travel experiences to go back and prevent the accident -but it only affects the other timeline. George is beyond himself, but his wife uses every advantage, because she knows about love and compassion, and she knows how Amanda thinks. Amanda gets over the experience, once she’s out of the hospital, because of Elena’s support.

His young teenaged son Alex, on the other hand, feels neglected because of Amanda’s attention, and the way George is pushing him to be the way he was as a young man. Alex doesn’t like baseball anymore, and prefers hanging out with his solitary friend rather than the baseball gang. When George pushes him to go to a party, he ends up running away and getting drunk on whiskey, and ends up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Again, George is beyond himself, and doesn’t know how to handle the situation, but Elena does. She takes Alex to therapy and tells George to go listen to the boy. It turns out he’s quite the musician, and likes to draw graphic novels. I guess this kind of trauma can bring out the communication in everybody, but it feels unreal the way everybody opens up to each other, getting to their true feelings in a single conversation. Who needs therapists!

The worst of the three traumas, though, happens last. Elena ends up with aggressive cancer, and is told she has only months to live. This, of course, hits the family hard, and once again George tries to get through it the way he always has in life -looking for a solution. But that won’t be enough, and it’s up to Elena to bring him back to reality, and to prepare him for the future without her. The entire sequence was heart-wrenching, and made the entire journey worthwhile. The author put a lot of emotion into it, which was really appreciated.

In the meantime, George also finds the courage (through lack of sleep) to fight back against layoffs, and gets a new job, which will bring him more satisfaction. They also have great friends, who’ve shared a lot of experiences with the family over the years. In the end, George gets to see Alex play music at his mom’s funeral and grow into a budding artist, and gets to see Amanda graduate college with a major cancer breakthrough. The story in the end is fulfilling.

My biggest question, which I believe is the largest plot hole in the entire book, is how George plans on reconnecting with his wife if he can only travel back by twenty five years, and he’s now over ninety -she died more than half his lifetime ago! This could have been fixed by Shiloh telling George that he lied, that the device can actually go back further, or that he had a second device with an upgrade. But I reread those last pages several times, looking for something that could explain it, but came up empty.

The emotional punch given by the ending, as well as Shiloh’s long impassioned speeches, made this work worthwhile, and worth recommending. It is unfortunately slow to start, and the people are too emotionally open, talking about their feelings way too easily than is realistic, but I was able to enjoy even those moments, and maybe even learn from them, nonetheless. It was as obvious to me as to Shiloh that George was ready to move on.


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