Revisiting Replay (Part 1)

I recently started my annual re-reading of my favorite novel, Replay by Ken Grimwood.  Since I consider the book to be at the core of my time travel trinity (taking the literary slot alongside Quantum Leap for TV and Back To The Future for film), I thought it would be fun to do some chapter by chapter commentary here.  I’ll try to point out things I like about it, as well as a few places where it was intentionally or accidentally an influence on Timely Persuasion.

Note: If you haven’t read Replay, the following may contain spoilers.

Chapter One

  • Jeff Winston, the main character, dies in the first sentence of the book.  Great opening.
  • While he’s dying, he casually runs through a list of regrets he has in his adult life with his wife.  It seems like a basic intro to his character at first glance, but turns out to be brilliantly subtle foreshadowing for everything that’s going to happen later.
  • After awakening in the body of his past college self circa 1963, Jeff alternates between thinking it’s real, a dream, or a post-hangover coincidence.
  • Every now and then someone tells me they think the narrator of Timely Persuasion is a little too casual about his predicament when he first travels in time, but rereading this opening chapter of Replay I don’t think my hero handles it all that much differently than Jeff Winston.  They both act cautiously, grasping at logical straws to explain a fantastical situation.

Chapter Two

  • Jeff has mostly accepted that he’s really gone back in time, but still wavers into “what if I’m dreaming?” territory on occasion.
  • His internal monologues ponder a number of “what if” scenarios about what “the rules” of time travel might be as they apply to him.  Similar to TP (and most other time travel tales for that matter) to a degree, with the big difference being that Jeff ends up being more or less spot on in his logical guesses as to what he can and can’t do, whereas my narrator is about 50/50 on being right and being flat out wrong.
  • I never really noticed before this reading, but I think this might be the first novel I’ve ever read that used “mind travel” rather than body travel.  As such, it may have been a subconscious inspiration for the underlying “message from your future self” time travel theory that’s the basis for TP.

Chapter Three

  • Jeff decides to rekindle a relationship with his old college flame, but realizes that his advanced sexual experiences from the future won’t let him regress back to a more innocent time.
  • He decides to use his future knowledge to bet on the Kentucky Derby, eventually scoring a big victory.  This time travel cliché is handled well by Grimwood as he plays out various permutations of it as the book goes on (and adds the complication of Jeff being underage and needing to convince an older student to front for him), but was something I consciously wanted to avoid in my book.  I tease the reader with the lottery numbers, but refuse to go in the direction of the big win in favor of exploring different ground.

Chapter Four

  • Jeff’s Vegas fling Sharla bears some similarity to the Cute Little Redheaded girl, though this is mostly coincidental.
  • I think there’s a minor mistake in this chapter when Frank tells Jeff that “Three times in a row now you’ve called them just right” after winning their bet on the Belmont Stakes.  A few pages earlier Jeff details that he DIDN’T bet on the Preakness since he couldn’t remember who won.  So either Frank is counting choosing not to bet a win, or this was an oversight.  (I’m not criticizing, as I know how easy it is to mess something like this up.  Just saying…)
  • They make one final big bet on the 1963 World Series where the Dodgers swept the Yankees, then move on to more adult ventures.

Chapter Five

  • “Future, Inc” is incorporated to play the stock market with Jeff’s future knowledge. Only utilizing his foreknowledge for profit doesn’t sit well, so he decides to have a bigger impact on society.  How?  He tries to stop the assassination of JFK — fully acknowledging that the idea was somewhat clichéd.  Jeff’s trying to stop this murder directly influenced the Kurt Cobain chapters in Timely Persuasion as sort of a modernization of the Kennedy/Hitler path many other time travel stories take.
  • Jeff succeeds in stopping Oswald, only to have another assassin take his place to carry out the deed.  This leads to an interesting internal monologue weighing government conspiracy vs. time travel course correction by a greater power in the universe.  Even though I’ve read Replay at least a half dozen times, this was the first time I noticed that Oswald’s “replacement” was named Nelson Bennett.  I knew the name “Nelson” sounded like a good bad guy to me; perhaps this planted the seed.
  • Also of note in this chapter is how Jeff’s business partner (and formerly gambling partner) Frank gets a little freaked out by Jeff’s “predictions” after the JFK incident and the two part ways, conveniently allowing Frank to exit the story having served his purpose for now.

Chapter Six

  • Wealth and the inability to change things for the better continue to take their toll on Jeff.  He breaks up with Sharla, makes more money, and bides his time until he’s supposed to meet his wife.
  • At the appointed place and time he shows up and finds her waiting, but she thinks his talk of his successes are a bad pick up line.  He calls her later to try again, but now she takes him to be a stalker and advises him to never contact her again. Knowing a rekindled romance would be a lost cause, Jeff ends up married with a daughter he adores and a wife he barely tolerates.  This section is similar to the TP underlying subplot regarding all of the narrator’s undone past loves, as well as his internal monologues on fate and whether or not true love is “meant to be” or even exists at all.
  • He spends much of his time pondering what went wrong as he tries to protect his daughter from both the future and her mother. At around the time he accepts that his daughter is most important to him — and at the exact same age he was when the book began — he dies again.

To be continued in Part 2

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One Response to “Revisiting Replay (Part 1)”

  1. […] there two other novels that have used this particular ‘rebirth’ set up (Ken Grimwood’s Replay -1986 – and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life), but all three works use the plot device quite […]

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