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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Lost Time Accidents

by
John Wray


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Lost Time Accidents



Title: The Lost Time Accidents
Author: John Wray
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 491 pages
Availability: The Lost Time Accidents - US
The Lost Time Accidents - UK
The Lost Time Accidents - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B- : much about it intriguing; frustrating

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 4/2/2016 Janelle Brown
The National . 3/2/2016 Steve Donoghue
The NY TImes Book Rev. . 21/2/2016 Charles Yu


  From the Reviews:
  • "The fine line between hokum and rational thinking is precisely the point of The Lost Time Accidents; a brick of a book not just because of its length but because of the density of both the prose and the ideas it contains. (...) 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. But it's also not easy to love it. (...) Wray's essentially attempting a tightrope-walk between the logical and the ludicrous, a balletic exploration of the meaning of time and memory and consciousness, that embraces both the science and the fantasy of it all. In this, he succeeds. It's the other parts of the book, the plot and characters, that lose their balance." - Janelle Brown, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Itís 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. And if it gains Wray the wider audience he deserves, well, youíll forgive the phrase, but: itís about time." - Steve Donoghue, The National

  • "If this all sounds a bit complex, it is. Although complication isnít necessarily bad in itself, and Wrayís previous work demonstrates his power and facility with complexity, here it doesnít always feel anchored to a central idea or set of ideas. (...) But if the time travel doesnít always feel essential, if the formal structure doesnít always justify itself, these are complaints at the margins of an engaging and ambitious novel. This is a messy, chaotic story about a messy, chaotic century." - Charles Yu, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Well over halfway through The Lost Time Accidents the narrator's father misses an opportunity when he's interviewed for a job:

     "Did you find out about the lost time accidents ?"
     To his shock Orson realized that he'd forgotten to ask. "I thought I might hold off for a while," he replied. "Until I get my bearings."
       Wray teases readers along too, in a novel that doesn't make it very easy to get one's bearings. The 'Lost Time Accidents' of the title remain elusive for much of the book; indeed, the plot -- or at least a major strand of it -- revolves around finding this family secret, but readers also find themselves immediately confronted with what would seem to be ultimate time-accident, the narrator of the novel, Waldemar Tolliver, finding himself stuck in it -- in an exact moment, in fact. He writes from a place (time ?) of some temporal distortion, his entries dated, one after the other: "Monday, 08:47 AM EST".
       The fact that later ones are from: "Monday, 09:05 AM EST" is small consolation -- and barely more than a slight displacement. No, as Tolliver sums up:
I'm marooned in a desolate bubble of extrachronological space, without company or apparent hope of rescue.
       It is the paradox of the book writ large: a book -- say, a work of fiction such as this one -- was created over a span of time, recounts a span of time, and takes a span of time to read, yet it is also entirely fixed in time, the printed pages unchanging, the reader able to turn to any point in the story, and then forward or back as s/he pleases, to follow the story as it is presented as unfolding or entirely randomly. A book freezes time -- two-fold in The Lost Time Accidents, where the narrator can nevertheless move (or at least write) within that frozen moment (or two).
       Tolliver addresses a Mrs.Haven from his stuck-in-time position, a woman he has fallen for hard, and with whom he had quite a fling. He writes about his predicament -- stuck, it seems, in his aunts' Spanish Harlem house, as well as in time -- but also recounts his family's history, a chronicle that takes up most of the novel.
       The Lost Time Accidents moves back and forth, between Tolliver's present-day moment and his extended account of his family, going back several generations to the old country, beginning in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And while it begins as as what might be considered the opposite of a time-travel novel -- as time has, in effect, stopped for Tolliver -- actual time travel (of the actual science(-fiction) kind, not just that in the mind's eye) does figure in the story. That's basically what the 'Lost Time Accidents' are -- a key to manipulating and traveling through time -- and it eventually also features in Tolliver's present-day moment, as he doesn't remain entirely alone there the entire time (non-time ?).
       The Lost Time Accidents is also a family saga, and begins with Ottokar Gottfriedens Toula, who seems to have cracked the secret of time. He had two sons, Waldemar and Kaspar, and the brilliant Waldemar worked to figure out his father's 'Lost Time Accidents' -- only to find some of his insights first revealed by the Patent-Clerk-who-must-remained-unnamed (well, his name is mentioned a couple of times, but Einstein is definitely not a family favorite). In his frustration, Waldemar becomes a fervent anti-Semite and German nationalist, and eventually a Nazi camp director -- known as the Black Timekeeper of Czas.
       Kaspar emigrated to the United States with his two daughters, changed his last name, and eventually had a son as well, Orson Card Tolliver, the narrator's father. Orson Card would go on to write bad science fiction but also become an L. Ron Hubbard-like figure, as a United Church of Synchronology is built up around his teachings (albeit without his help, as he long did his best to keep his distance from this cult). One of the first and most eager UCS acolytes was Haven -- the husband of the woman Tolliver is writing to, and for, and about.
       Tolliver's obsession -- aside from Mrs.Haven -- is his grand-uncle (and namesake) Waldemar's crimes, and he wants justice done. There's considerable mystery about what exactly Waldemar did at the camp, though records of his experiments remain. And there's also the mystery of what exactly happened to him -- the camp was quickly destroyed, but neither he nor his body were recovered.
       There's a lot more, too: for example, Tolliver's quirky twin aunts (in whose house he's stuck), who, among much else, long hosted a notorious occasional salon (a typical one described, in one of the book's odder bits, in a piece attributed to Joan Didion). They too play a role in all the time-experimentation -- and see one for Tolliver as well. And of course there's his passion for and fling with Mrs. Haven.
       It makes for a novel covering a great deal of interesting ground, both theoretical -- the time-speculation -- and the down-to-earth, from the various personal histories of the family members to Orson's fiction and the cult it spawned and the final confrontations, in Europe and in the time-limbo, as to the long-kept family secrets. All of that, however, makes for a something of a mess, too. When Wray abruptly shifts from one story to the next -- "Waldemar's breakthrough can wait" -- often as not he isn't operating so much with cliffhangers as with distractions. Suspense eventually builds up, but it's a very long road -- just interesting enough, as Tolliver offers up episodes of family history, but just.
       It's not that most of the pieces, situations, and characters aren't interesting, but with this enormous sweep of history -- the story spans over a century -- a great deal has to constantly be left behind. It's often difficult to get any real sense of the characters, the fits and spurts of the story making it difficult to even really get on board just with Tolliver and Mrs.Haven; it's only when the story and pace settles down a bit (and enough filler has been filled in) that things unfold more satisfyingly. Tolliver's stuck-in-time perspective is, of course, also a difficult one to handle, and though Wray shakes that up a bit too it can be a somewhat leaden anchor to the story.
       Presumably one shouldn't expect a novel with a premise such as that of The Lost Time Accidents to unfold neatly (and chronologically), but maybe Wray didn't shake things (and the timeline) up sufficiently. Most of the story does unspool chronologically (even if time itself in the novel apparently hasn't entirely), and the effect is a dragging one. Not what one hopes for in any novel -- especially in one that posits a whole new way of seeing time.
       Over its nearly five hundred pages, The Lost Time Accidents is almost constantly on the verge of being intriguing, but too often also fizzles out. Despite all the playful elements, it also comes across as entirely too dour. The novel ultimately comes together reasonably well in its conclusion, but it's a long way getting there, the very extended build-up one that rarely manages to build up much momentum.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 February 2016

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Links:

The Lost Time Accidents: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author John Wray was born in 1971.

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© 2016 the complete review

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