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

Commentary 24: 24 Hour Party People

We get a little time travel heavy at the start of this chapter as far as “rules” go, but later move into some hands-on fun as Local Boy revisits his origins with an eye on trying to undo them.

Other tidbits:

  • I admit the cliffhanger in the previous chapter was a bit of a tease that’s quickly resolved here.  But I did find it interesting to explore what may be happening to alternate timelines that are “left behind” each time a character blinks.  These dangling threads are often ignored in most time travel tales.
  • When the old man extends his theory to say we saw the narrator die outside the bar when he passed out, he’s actually wrong.  What we really saw was the a time traveling mind controlling a drunken host, and when the sober mind vanishes he literally passes out.  It always drives me crazy that “theories” presented in fiction on a whim always turn out to be true, so I intentionally made the old man be wrong for the right reason here.
  • “I was wrong.  And I could be wrong again” is more music from the future spoken by the old man.  Fitting that it’s Paul Simon, showing that the same old favorites will continue to be followed.
  • “Infinite Perfection” was a title I considered for the book based on the line in this chapter.  Prior to that I was back and forth between “Timeless Persuasion” and “Timely Persuasion.” I actually Googled both at one point and decided to go with Timeless since there was a horse named Timely Persuasion, but I must have forgotten about it later and flip-flopped.  The inspiration for the “Persuasion” part comes from the song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
  • The Dad’s blink was tough to write about in the context of the book since everything else is in the first person.  It didn’t make sense to break convention for this, so it had to be told from the perspective of one of the versions of the narrator.  In the end I cheated a little with a third person telling followed by a first person caveat of “At least that’s the way part of my brain remembers the story now.”
  • Dad’s blink is inspired by how they revisit the first movie in Back to the Future Part II.
  • I’ve mentioned the possibility of a sequel previously.  I have a general idea of how it would work and how it could expand upon this first story, but in all honesty I don’t really know if I’ll ever get around to writing it.  However, I do know this:  If there is a sequel, the title will most likely be “Nelsonification” after the secret word provided by the Doctor.
  • There are 25 musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twenty-Four Online

Commentary 17: Wounded Kite At :17

We finally return to “present” time, allowing our hero to discover that things have changed…but not for the better. His homecoming focuses on the effects of extended time travel on the body as well as his ensuing confusion when things aren’t quite right. To make matters worse, this may no longer be a time travel story.

Other tidbits:

  • This is hands down my favorite chapter title. It’s also the one that prompted me to get out of bed to start my numeric title brainstorming list. The coincidental placement of this chapter works perfectly too, as the narrator is erratically jerked around like a wounded kite.
  • Requiring a traveler to retrace their blinks on their way back home was loosely inspired by the TV show Sliders featuring a group stuck “sliding” from parallel universe to parallel universe. (Not time travel, but similar in general concept.) It was originally set up that the alternate worlds went in a set order, but they later abandoned that aspect of the mythology. I stuck with it.
  • We have another nod to Quantum Leap when the narrator faces a mirror image that is not his own. His new look with “a wide goatee” alludes to the cover art of the book, though it’s not an exact match and thus intentionally ambiguous.
  • At one time there were lots of locations mentioned by name, but I eventually pared them all down under the overarching “no names” rule. But I just couldn’t take out the reference to Town Spa Pizza. I grew up on it, I love it, I send anyone who visits the greater Boston area there even though it’s well outside of the city, and besides the Red Sox it’s probably the only other thing I truly miss about the East Coast. (For the record, my pizza of choice is Pineapple, Broccoli, and Bacon. It’s not on the menu, but it should be…)
  • Back To The Future alert: “Mom, Mom is that you?”
  • For the record, I’m quite proud of my dissertation on sex ed as it applies to time travel. This is also where the earlier line about Nelson’s father “saving himself for marriage” pays off.
  • Having Nelson and the brother be in a relationship together wasn’t pre-planned. I actually didn’t even know what was going to be in the tree house until the narrator flipped open the trap door. But once he did, it seemed to be a very logical turn of events. It also opens up a thought provoking question about fate, destiny, cupid, soulmates, etc.
  • Note that the narrator acknowledges that if his older self exists at all, he’d still be in California.
  • The conversation with the brother in the kitchen is essentially an alternate version of the previously unseen “I can’t believe you want to marry this guy!” exchange.
  • It distracted from the narrative so I took it out, but the titles of the other Local Boy albums are abbreviated as “LBBS” (BarnStormer) and “LBCiQ” (Local Boy Calls It Quits). The “Quits” title is just a nickname, while the full title emulates the naming conventions of US-Only classic 1960s records like The Beatles’ Second Album or The Rolling Stones, Now!
  • The letter from Harry Chapin’s lawyer gives us a small peek into the impact of the stolen songs, while Local Boy’s pledge to “donate” the songs to up and coming artists illustrates both his guilt and how the timeline might resolve itself.
  • Coverville is a nod to my favorite podcast, and one I was proudly featured on recently.
  • I left the Guns ‘N Roses bit in as I’m still not holding my breath for Chinese Democracy to ever see the light of day. And even if it does, from the narrator’s perspective it’s only 2002.
  • The act of “giving Nelson’s Mom the Heisman” in reference to a break up is a brilliant Jon Mack-ism. When you look at the pose of the trophy, you really can’t create a better analogy.
  • “A Collection of Other People’s Songs” is borrowed from the title of a Carter USM covers compilation EP.
  • I painted myself into a bit of a corner with the removal of the neck bruise and the powers that it symbolized, but again it was something that just had to be done at this point in the story to keep the time travel logic on course.
  • There are 38 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Seventeen Online

Commentary 6: 6ix

Back at the bowling alley in search of answers, our hero confronts the old man. This chapter is exposition heavy on early time travel nuts and bolts, and one I struggled with most in rewrites. The idea was to set a foundation that would have some parts hold true and other parts be called out as false later on, but it kept spiraling out of control and confused a lot of early readers. In the end I chopped it up quite a bit, relegating two sections to deleted scenes and bumping one into a flashback on the plane.

Other tidbits:

  • In the first draft I actually name dropped all of the actual members of the 900 club, but decided that “no names” meant no names except for Nelson and more mainstream celebrities. I was also worried it would date the story too much whenever another perfect trifecta occurs. But for the record, the members of the USBC certified 900 club are Jeremy Sonnenfeld (2/2/97), Tony Roventini (11/9/98), Vince Wood (9/29/99), Robby Portalatin (12/28/00), James Hylton (5/2/01), Jeff Campbell II (6/12/04), Darren Pomije (12/9/04), Lonnie Billiter Jr (2/13/06), Robert Mushtare (12/3/05 & 2/19/06), and Mark Wukoman (4/22/06).
  • As Devon Kappa correctly guessed in the NoneMaySay review, the old man is an homage to Doc Brown of Back To The Future fame. A mix of brilliance and insanity, a hundred steps ahead of everyone and rarely slowing down for long enough to let them catch up. But unlike Doc Brown, he’s not particularly trustworthy even though he means well.
  • The time traveling stool and beer from Chapter 2 pay off here. This is also the first hint that we’re technically picking up the story in medias res, otherwise there would be a causation paradox.
  • The big “I’m you” reveal is a little bit cliché in the time travel world, but I decided the “only interact with yourself” twist was unique enough to allow it. Besides, it’s really the only way to set it up.
  • “Sometimes theories are right, sometimes wrong” is a main theme of the book and the main takeaway from this chapter. It should be applied to anything the old man says about time travel, and anything he says at all for that matter.
  • I intentionally tried to make sure that the narrator was just as confused as the reader, partly to pull the focus away from the physics and partly to build sympathy. If you still have trouble understanding the old man, his comment at the end of the chapter is as much to the reader as it is to himself: “Don’t dwell on it too much.”
  • There are 14 intentional musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Six Online