Review: Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon

Thanksgiving Eve fails as a time travel novel but other aspects of this novel make it a compelling tale of how a father tries to improve relations with his family.

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The Premise

A lot of time travel novels ask the question how would you relive part of your life again? Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon recounts the story of Ray who dies on Christmas Eve and gets to relive the 5 days leading up to his death. At first – and then earlier portions of his life.

Thanksgiving Eve by Jay Brandon

During these relived periods Ray tries to improve relationships with his family members. This is clearly reminiscent of some aspects of A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) around Christmas eve.

So I’ll call this out now: Thanksgiving Eve? What’s wrong with Christmas?

Writing style

Jay’s writing is extremely polished which is hardly surprising when we see how much training he’s had! Right from the outset, for example, Jay hones right in on the dark mood and thoughts of the unfairness of life; thoughts which I’m sure many people have but don’t outwardly express because of social norm.

On a similar footing there are astute observations in many aspects of life which range from parenting to how we answer a phone. In some ways this is a pitfall of Thanksgiving Eve because a quarter of the way through the novel there was no clear story line and I was still reading about mundane events in life like going shopping or eating round the table.

Indeed, some might argue that there is no story line; even by the end of the novel I’m not sure what the thread is – and I’m not convinced that the main character would know either.

On the flip side, this highlights the strength of Thanksgiving Eve in that it complelled me to read on despite the lack of a clear story line!

Time travel

One of my pet peeves in time travel novels is the length of time that it takes a character to realise that he’s travelled in time. It seems that in Thanksgiving Eve we have the complete opposite where Ray barely bats an eyelid when he finds himself back 5 days in time as if time travel is an every day experience. Or is that Groundhog day?! πŸ˜‰

Actually Ray’s transition into the past was so smooth that I wondered whether there was any time travel at all and that Ray was seeing portions of his life flash before his eyes prior to death; perhaps something similar to The I Inside movie.

That said Ray doesn’t know why he’s gone back in time, but after a couple of trips he seems to see the benefit in having a better relationship with his family and somehow decides that this is why he’s being offered a second chance to make amends.

There’s a clear similarity with other novels such as Ken Grimwood’s Replay, or (the much better) Buckyball by Fabien Roy. In these two novels the time travel element is not necessarily well understood by the characters, but it is fully utilised and incorporated within the plots of the respective novels. I didn’t get the same feeling with Thanksgiving Eve.

In fact I can almost see a reworking in the manuscript where the idea of time travel has been added as an after-thought. Was this a ‘regular’ drama novel where nothing much happens, so sliced into segments and rearranged under the name of time travel to make it more interesting? I wouldn’t be surprised.

It’s clear to any time travel enthusiast that Thanksgiving Eve has only a very weak sniff of time travel. When my wife makes juice from concentrate she makes it so weak that the resulting beverage is terrible. It would be better to simply have water. And I think it’s the same here – it would have much better to leave out the weak time travel instead of adding a couple of drops of it into a watery novel.

This is especially true because there is potential for much more than what’s included. For example, Ray goes further back in time for each of his successive revisits to his own life. This means that we never find out whether his actions hold any consequences for the future. So what’s the point? The obvious twist to the Grandfather paradox (i.e. will any of his (re)actions in the past affect his own existence to the point that his death won’t occur and hence he won’t be able to go back in time and make those changes…) was totally side-stepped.

It was never completely clear regarding the amount of free will that Ray had when he went back in time. His appearance was commensurate with the period he was in (friends and family didn’t realise he was a time traveller); he seemed able to instantly recall events leading up to where he was, but he was able to do things differently. Could he though? When he really wanted to do something different he was drunk so couldn’t control his body. Another side-step.

Just as Buckyball introduces some time travel vocabulary, Ray’s relived days are vaguely referred to as “Dayovers”. But surely if Ray (or the author) is naming these experiences then it should be more prominent?

Other aspects of the Dayovers had some interesting aspects – Ray’s neighbour, Kevin, gets pulled back in time each time Ray goes back. Again, this reminded me of Buckyball which involved a group of inter-related time travellers. The first time that it was mentioned that Kevin was going back in time too it seemed out of place and I took it whimsically. Then later it became clearer when Kevin confronts Ray about it directly. But nothing came of it. Similarly there’s the beggar. Corny and cheesy to have such a character play a potentially important / revealing role, but again, nothing comes of it.

It’s hugely frustrating that the time travel seems to be part of something bigger than something which just affects Ray but pretty much gets ignored.

Closing thoughts, open questions

Undoubtedly there are open questions. One argument is that Ray doesn’t understand what happened, so why should we? At the same time we’re a curious species – we ask questions and we want answers. But none came. And the fish taco at the end? Definitely a ball was dropped here πŸ™

Rating * *

This is a time travel blog, and as a time travel novel Thanksgiving Eve falls short, hence 2 stars. But where the time travel side of things is lacking, the other side of the novel – Ray’s life and his relationships – is very well written; a compelling tale of how a father tries to improve relations with his family which I found to be a very enjoyable read!

Paul

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