Revisiting Replay (Part 4)

This is the final 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.

Chapters Eighteen to Twenty

  • Pamela returns in 1975 this time; next time Jeff’s replay begins in 1976.  It’s interesting to note how Jeff & Pamela seem to be one cycle off in the time-skews they experience in each successive replay even though both have had the same number of cycles.  I always thought it would have made more sense for Pamela to have actually had one extra replay cycle to account for this.
  • Skipping ahead a bit, Jeff’s final replay starts in 1985.  Not knowing what to do for the last three years of his life without Pamela, he decides he needs to see her again even if it’s not the same version of her he’s spent so many years and so many lives with.  He tracks her down to an art museum and follows her around.
  • I had conceived but never actually wrote a section of Timely Persuasion where the narrator invisibly stalks the redheaded girl after she leaves the bar just to see what her mysterious life away from him was like.  This section of Replay always reminds me of that up until the point where Pamela unexpectedly engages Jeff in conversation.  From that point on it seems to echo the surprise of TP’s narrator’s first interaction with his father, albeit purely through coincidental hindsight.

Chapter Twenty-One

  • I don’t want to outright spoil it for people who haven’t read the book, so I’ll just say that this chapter was in my head while writing the “green black green black green black green black green black green black green” sections of TP.  The correlation is subtle, but I think it will make sense in comparison.


  • In a curious and interesting twist, the Epilogue has nothing to do with Jeff or Pamela.  Instead it’s just a single page detailing the realization of a Norwegian man that he’s replaying the years 1988-2017.  A great ending that illustrates the phenomenon will continue with others while still leaving the core questions of why and how open ended.

One final related note:  Ken Grimwood died of a sudden heart attack in 2003, eerily similar to the deaths of Jeff Winston.  A strange case of life imitating art that almost makes you wonder…

At the time of his death he was working on a sequel to Replay.  In my head the sequel picks up with the new character introduced in the original book’s epilogue and has him crossing paths with Jeff & Pamela — both of whom are now replaying the second half of their long lives from 1988-2017.  Unfortunately we’ll probably never know.

I was going to include an overarching “in memorial” type of closing here, but decided I couldn’t top this one:

Remembering Ken Grimwood

In anycase, I hope I did this amazing book justice without totally spoiling it and provided inspiration for you to read it (or, for that matter, Timely Persuasion) for either the first or the fiftieth time.

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.

Revisiting Replay (Part 2)

This is the second 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 Seven

  • Jeff starts his second replay in a state of shock that he’s lost both his daughter and his financial empire.  He seeks solace in his old college flame Judy Gordon, feeling that he dismissed her too quickly in both of his prior lives. This mirrors the way Timely Persuasion‘s narrator embraces the relationship with the cute little redheaded girl upon finding himself back in a “shocking” new life.
  • Judy is freaked out by his desire to drop out of school and spend his life gambling, so he reels it back a little this time around.  He forces himself to finish college (again) and earn an MBA, and he makes sure his investments keep them comfortably in the upper middle class but no higher.  At first this holding back bothers him, but he decides Judy is worth it and enjoys a more simple life this time around.
  • Once again Jeff dies on the same day in 1988 despite taking precautions and checking himself into the hospital for a week.  Upon returning to 1963, he isn’t happy.

Chapters Eight & Nine

  • Jeff — now essentially 93 years old — has tried to do the right thing and lost the two loves of his life plus his daughter in the process.  Not wanting to start from scratch again he makes the first bet, flies to Vegas to find Sharla, then jets off to Paris for several years of debauchery. This is probably my favorite moment for the pure realism of the decision.  As I often paraphrase Jeff’s thoughts when describing the book to others: “I lost everything again?  F- it.  Drugs and whores!”
  • Real life jazz musician Sidney Bechet makes a cameo at one of the seedy Paris clubs Jeff frequents, but the appearance is a little anachronistic.  In real life Bechet died in 1959, so he shouldn’t be around in 1963.  Either this is a mistake, or perhaps a subtle hint that other replayers may be out there making subtle changes to history – in this case extending the life of Bechet.
  • Previously I mentioned that Sharla seems somewhat similar to the cute little redheaded girl in Timely Persuasion.  I’m realizing now that Mireille (Sharla’s Parisian counterpart) also shares the same similarities — including the same red hair.
  • Sharla and Jeff board Pan Am Flight 843 from San Francisco to Hawaii, with Jeff not realizing the significant history of the flight. Grimwood’s name dropping of the plane’s real life crew was my inspiration for naming the members of bowling’s real life 900 club in an early draft of TP, though the scene ended up being cut due to my “no name” rule.  (I also like the way Grimwood extracts quotes from the linked article and scatters them throughout the plane scene to enhance the realism, which mirrors some of my Dylan and Cobain research.)

Chapters Ten, Eleven & Twelve

  • Jeff retreats into solitude on a farm in northern California where he lives alone for nearly a decade.  The thought of loving and losing again if the replays continue is just too much for him to take.  Then one day while in town on his semi-annual supply trip he sees a poster for a blockbuster movie called Starsea that he’s never heard of before. He tracks down Pamela Phillips, the producer of the mysterious film. She eventually reveals what he’s suspected all along – she’s a replayer too.
  • The two compare notes.  Pamela’s tale is similar to Jeff’s with two notable exceptions.  She starts replaying as a 14 year old living with her parents and thus doesn’t have the same freedoms he does as an 18 year old in college.  And she thinks their “mission” is to enlighten the world as to what is happening, which was the very reason she decided to make Starsea.  This is another section that feels like backstory but really serves to nicely set up what’s to come in the second half of the novel.
  • Eventually the pair start a relationship, excited to have found someone they can share their experiences with.  They philosophize on parallel universes and other time travel theory, wondering if their past replays continued on without them after they “died” in a section that echoes some of the musings of TPs narrator.
  • In the end they part ways to die alone, both brimming with excitement that they’ll be reunited in the next replay without losing everything they’ve built together in this life.  But things don’t always go the way you planned…

To be continued in Part 3

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