Hazards of Time Travel, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins, 2018, 324 pp
Summary from Goodreads: "Time travel” — and its hazards—are made literal in this astonishing new novel in which a recklessly idealistic girl dares to test the perimeters of her tightly controlled (future) world and is punished by being sent back in time to a region of North America — “Wainscotia, Wisconsin”—that existed eighty years before. Cast adrift in time in this idyllic Midwestern town she is set upon a course of “rehabilitation”—but cannot resist falling in love with a fellow exile and questioning the constrains of the Wainscotia world with results that are both devastating and liberating.
I am well aware that Joyce Carol Oates is not every reader's cup of tea. I happen to find her brilliant. I have read 18 of her books. I know people who feel as I do about her and I feel friendly towards those people. So I am not so much recommending this novel to any but those JCO lovers. I am wanting to share my thoughts with my JCO tribe.
Ms Oates, as far as I know, had not gone in a post apocalyptic/dystopian direction before. I know she likes to try new things and doesn't worry if she comes out on top of any specific genre. It is exciting to see how she goes about putting her own stamp on whatever she attempts.
In the novels and stories of hers I have read so far, the thing she always, always does is explore emotional and psychological trauma. Hazards of Time Travel follows a female high school senior who has grown up in a future, extremely tightly controlled society. She dares to think for herself in the Valedictorian talk she will give at graduation. Her punishment is banishment to an earlier time, loss of her family and even her own name.
Despite her intelligence and daring, she has been so impregnated with the concepts of her upbringing that her resulting fears never leave her. She is not ever going to be free, whether she stays in 1950s Wisconsin or is allowed to return to her own time and place.
All the details are exactly right. I would not expect anything less. But those details are not just used to orient the reader in the story. They are used to show that the details of daily life, the details of behavioral control, mind control, the details of love and loss, are the very things that keep us trapped, alone, depressed and fearful.
Then there are some odd sentence structures. For me those sentences put me in the minds of the characters. We don't think in carefully constructed sentences, do we? We certainly don't feel emotion in them. Brilliant!
Hazards of Time Travel seems like a Trump timely novel but, according to Ron Charles in his Washington Post review, JCO had started the novel in 2011 and finished it before the 2016 election. I like to think of novelists as our modern day prophets. This book is an example of that.
(Hazards of Time Travel is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)