Revisiting Replay (Part 3)

This is the third post in a series of chapter by chapter commentaries on the novel Replay by Ken Grimwood.  To start at the beginning, check out Part 1.

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

Chapter Thirteen

  • Jeff wakes up in bed, but instead of his dorm room he finds himself at his parents house in Florida some three months later than he expected.  He immediately hits the road for Connecticut to rendezvous with Pamela.  When he arrives, she has no idea who he is.  She’s her normal 14 year old self who hasn’t started replaying yet — with parents who aren’t too pleased with the creepy older stalker their daughter has acquired.  The brilliance of this complication lies in how it’s been discretely set up all along.  Each successive replay has always slowly creeped forward by hours or days, but it’s subtle enough to stay in the college days with the same cast of characters that it goes largely unnoticed until an exponential jump sneaks up on the reader and Jeff simultaneously.
  • Months later Jeff tries to call Pamela at home to see if anything has changed.  He gives the fake name of Alan Cochran to not raise suspicion with her parents.  Alan Cochran is actually an alias that Ken Grimwood used to publish the out of print novel Two Plus Two.  Using the Alan Cochran name in Replay was actually how Grimwood revealed his authorship of this other book to the world.  As far as I’ve read he never publicly acknowledged writing it other than this tiny clue.

Chapter Fourteen

  • Pamela eventually starts replaying a year and a half late, and is even more freaked out about it than Jeff is.  They decide to seek out other replayers to compare notes and possibly figure out what is happening to them.  To accomplish this, they place an ad in all of the major newspapers and magazines that reads:

Do you remember Watergate? Lady Di? The shuttle disaster? The Ayatollah? Rocky? Flashdance? If so, you’re not alone.  Contact P.O. Box 1988, New York, N.Y. 10001.

  • This ad was the direct inspiration for the note the narrator of Timely Persuasion finds on his car:

Ever wonder what could have been? Better still, does the voice inside your head insist you already know? Test subjects wanted for experiments on the subconscious powers of the mind.  Top $$$ to those who qualify.  Call 310-779-5234 to register.

Chapter Fifteen

  • Most of the responses to the ad prove to be false leads, but they do manage to find a replayer by the name of Stuart McCowan.  Unfortunately, Mr. McCowan has become a serial killer in his replays, believing the phenomenon to be caused by aliens who expect the subjects to entertain them with murder.  I’ve always envisioned Michael Emerson as McCowan based on his creepy Emmy-winning performance as serial killer William Hinks on The Practice — years before he was ever cast to play Ben on Lost.
  • Jeff and Pamela waste the majority of this replay on a futile search for others like them and McCowan, eventually dying on schedule.   Jeff loses 14 months the next time around, Pamela loses 3.5 years.  There’s a great scene reminiscent of Quantum Leap told from the perspective of pre-leap in Pamela leading up to her arrival in her own head.  Some of this might have been subconscious inspiration for the mind-travel in TP (though QL was the more overt connection).
  • This same scene also put me at ease in the decision to show one blink from the perspective of Local Boy when everything else was first person.  I struggled over that section for awhile in rewrites until I realized Grimwood did it too.

Chapters Sixteen & Seventeen

  • Still curious about the forward “skew” in each successive replay, the pair decide to go public this time around.  The veiled predictions of their advertisement become brazenly publicized predictions of world events.  At first glance you need to suspend some disbelief here as a lot of predictions that include specific dates (when Justice Earl Warren will resign, for example) could be subject to change once publicized, but since that thought pays off later it ends up working.
  • Most of the general public writes them off as psychic frauds, but a covert government agency uses them to “predict” world events such as wars, terrorist attacks, and political uprisings so the military can act on them.  But once the US starts intervening based on this intel, the course of world events spiral so far out of control and off kilter that neither Jeff nor Pamela know what’s going to happen next.  This causes a huge riff in their relationship, nicely setting up their next replays.
  • Jeff’s next replay begins in an air conditioned Florida apartment with someone persistently ringing his doorbell.  It turns out to be Linda – his past/future wife and current girlfriend — who he hasn’t seen for 118 years since she last shunned his advances in replay #1.  With their money problems solved and their first meeting already out of the way, this time around their life together is nearly perfect.  This mirrors TP’s narrator’s unexpected second chance with the redheaded girl.

To be concluded in Part 4.

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