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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Review: Buckyball by Fabien Roy

Buckyball (Fabien Roy) is a brilliantly delivered take on repeatedly reliving part of your life over and over again. The attention to small time travel details and the writing style make Buckyball a superb read!

Buckyball

I must be old. Here’s me thinking a “buckyball” is a common term for “Buckminsterfullerene” – a C60 carbon molecule folded round in the shape of a football. And that a “screaming snowball” is something of a personification when someone says “there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell” and then decides to literally make a point by lobbing said snowball into the fiery pit.

Buckyball by Fabien Roy

But it turns out that a buckyball is a recreational drug, and it also turns out that in this novel a buckyball can send you back in time (or have a “life turn”).

Beginnings

Buckyball starts with James Pesola who’s recovering from a double stapedectomy – an operation to improve hearing. He’s nervous about the outcome and is advised to write down his thoughts about his life which is the novel that we’re reading. (So I should mention that on a personal level I immediately felt heavily involved because only the day before starting this novel I was at the hospital to get the results of my MRI scan for my own ear problems!)

Things start quickly. I thought it was interesting that the first person character isn’t the first time traveller; it’s James’ friend, John. On the night of Saturday 11 June 2005 John explains to his friends that he’s already lived the following week and has now come back to be reunited with his friends. Somehow.

Over the course of the following week John’s knowledge of the future is shown to be correct so there’s no prolonged confusion or disbelief (which would be understandable since drugs are involved). Then on Sunday 19 June the same happens to James – he finds himself (with John) back on Saturday 11 June 2005, again with their friends who know no different.

Life turns

James and John find that they can act on information from the future when they return back in time and relive their lives again on a repeated week or “life turn”. For example, they’re cooks by profession and keep a burnt steak instead of chucking it out because they know it will be ordered the next day by another customer.

Not everything stays exactly the same though – there are some subtle differences between life turns. Winning lottery numbers differ, for example, and the two surmise that this is due to the small changes brought about just by their presence. Something as small as a smile in an elevator can change somebody’s mood and affect how they behave, which goes on to have subsequent ramifications, etc..

I liked this lottery number thing – not only does it do away with making easy money on each life turn (which would be a bore to read), this is an example of Fabien’s remarkable eye for detail when it comes to things surrounding time travel.

Generally speaking though, actions and (other people’s) memories are erased at the beginning of each life turn. Their friends on Saturday 11 June 2005 have no idea what’s going on, for example. Indeed, there is an incident between John and his girlfriend on one life turn where their relationship takes on a new direction. This is addressed in following life turns, even though the girlfriend is none the wiser.

This reset gives James and John almost a completely free reign over everything they do because in effect their actions don’t matter as they don’t have lasting consequences. This clearance also holds for their physical condition – a bodily injury or illness will dissolve on the next life turn.

This leaves an open question – what happens to the people (and objects) who don’t go back in time? If James is talking to Person X on 14 June then goes back to Saturday 11, what happens to Person X? Is there a 15th June?

We never know because we never read from that viewpoint – we read from James’, and James goes back so he never knows either. It’s an interesting thought though. Maybe that present (or future) disappears in the same way that our past disappears. But if it doesn’t vanish then that means that it’s recreated on the next life turn and we’ve entered the multiple universe theory…

The first few lief turns were always a week long and this fixed time length makes reading the experience seem a little like a week-long version of the Groundhog Day movie – but with the point of repetition much less laboured!

I was really pleased when the time between life turns increased to 5 months. This brings us out of the risk zone of the repetitive ‘Groundhog Day loop’ and brings about a new element of the mystery of time in the buckyball life turns. (Replay (Ken Grimwood) partly tackled the problem of repetition by the main character reliving ever decreasing portions of his life).

This prompts James and John to experiment and figure out what the catalyst is for returning to 11 June, and armed with this information they play out a number of ways in how they relive their lives. And as these two discover, if things were to remain like this it would become a dull life, and an even duller book. But it’s not to remain so!

Curve buckyballs

Fabien continually throws curve balls in Buckyball to keep James and John – and us – on our toes. For example, they’re not the only two who have taken buckyballs, meaning that they’re not the only two who relive a part of their life and have everything reset after the catalyst to return to the past is triggered.

And crucially, this means that they’re not the only two who can set off the trigger. The upshot is that every now and then they find themselves back at the beginning of their life turn – often feeling very angry about it.

This lack of control over what’s happening to them reminded me in some ways of Syncing Forward (W. Lawrence). Indeed, James even refers obliquely to the phenomenon as a disease – a real change in attitude to his initial impressions of the experience.

Writing style

I thoroughly enjoyed Fabien’s writing – he addresses my questions almost as fast as I was formulating them which certainly made me feel that he was writing on my wavelength in terms of information delivery. What I really value is his amazing eye for detail – for example, the time travel related details such as why lottery numbers differ, or specific details on how the catalyst to return to the past needs to be delivered.

Fabien uses the skills of the characters he’s written into Buckyball to ‘help him out’, most noticeably with an expert in physics and an IT girl (kudos to Fabien for using girls here in traditionally ‘male roles’). In fact, he uses a group of people as an opportunity to show further ways of living life turns which wouldn’t have been in character with either James or John who for the most part we follow (and I had a little smile in that one of them sets up a “Groundhog training school”! πŸ˜‰ )

The writing style itself is progressive, but recall that this novel is being read as a letter written by James as an old man. Fabien sort of makes it difficult for himself then, writing in first person as an old man recalling feelings from a younger man. Should he write the whole novel in “old people speak”?

I thought that at first it read like James was a teenager, even though he’s in his twenties. Perhaps this is me being so far from this age group that it all merges into one (stand by for my upcoming post “A tale of two Dutch cities”). The thoughts and dialogue come sometimes with some inappropriate or politically incorrect insensitive language. Sometimes it was funny though on one occasion I can see that it may be offensive, but at the same time this could just be James’ character.

For the immersion side of things, I think Fabien took the right road in writing in first person as a younger man when James was younger. It also makes it much clearer to see James’ development in character as time goes on and the number of life turns clocks up. We see that even though he ‘officially’ remains at the same age of 26, his mentality changes and matures as he experiences different facets of life.

Closing scenes

I really had no idea in how Buckyball was going to finish!

There’s an interesting scientific spew at the end which at first seemed disjointed to the preceding text until I realised we’re now back in current time with James writing his letter.

I have two slight issues with the final sections. The first is a heavy focus on a policeman which, though interesting, didn’t really seem to either move things forwards or tie any ends.

The other thing was – why a buckyball? It seems a grossly inefficient way to…ah. Read it yourself to find out! πŸ˜‰

Replay. What was that again?

Anyone reading Buckyball might immediately think of Replay by Ken Grimwood.

But I’ll just say it straight – Buckyball is a better version of Replay! If Ken Grimwood relived his life again and rewrote Replay, he might be tempted to write it to be something more like Buckyball!

Whereas Replay effectively resets the storyline with each ‘reincarnation’, Buckyball has more of a continuous thread which follows James through each of his turns – and there’s much more going on!

Rating * * * * *

Buckyball has the full 5 stars for a brilliantly delivered take on repeatedly reliving part of your life over and over again. The attention to small time travel details and the writing style make Buckyball a superb read!

Buckyball is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

You can read my interview with Fabien Roy over at timetravelnexus.com!

Paul

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Buckyball” to read and provide an honest review. This is it!

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Review: Replay by Ken Grimwood

Here’s a novel where the secondary character is vastly more interesting than the main one, and thankfully with her introduction into the novel an actual plot develops. Too bad she appears quite late on, but it is worth ploughing forwards through the initial drivel!

Replay has been read widely and heavily reviewed. On the whole, the reviews tend to be hugely positive…though for the remainder I’m sure that some have been written by a group of people who gave up after the first few chapters out of total and sheer boredom.

Synopsis of Replay

Replay book cover

Jeff Winston dies at 43 and wakes up as an 18 year old. He relives his life with knowledge of what’s to come. Then dies again at 43. He wakes up as an 18 year old again, albeit a few days later than the last time. And he relives his life again. And again. And so on.

Eventually he meets Pamela Phillips, another ‘replayer’ like himself. Their shared wisdom gleaned over each of their replays help them to hit it off with each other. Together they try to figure out what’s happening to them, and why the length of the replays are getting shorter and what the consequences of the natural extrapolation will be.

Replay my thoughts…

Despite the tedious first few chapters I managed to plod on…which turned out to be a good thing because Replay picks up a little around half way through. From then on it gets interesting with the introduction of Pamela.

So…my review I guess will be like the summation of all the others – that I both liked and hated Replay.

Like the main character at the start of the book, I’m in my roaring forties. Unlike him, I have a job I love, but even better, I have a wife and 2 kids who I’m intensely in love with.

So if I died tonight and I got to live my life again, would I do things any differently?

Yes.

I wouldn’t read Replay again, at least, not the first half.

The first half describes how some bloke lives his life for the second time. OK, he’s died and come back as an 18 year old, but there’s nothing particularly interesting to read. Then he does it again. And again, and probably again. I can’t remember now. He does it a few times anyway.

Knowledge of the past futures doesn’t really come into play that much apart from his placing a few bets and investments to ensure financial security. He tries to stop the JFK assassination. Arghh! It’s hardly an original theme in a time travel novel.

Well, I say “time travel” but it’s pretty shallow stuff really and it certainly doesn’t read anything like a time travel novel. Indeed Jeff doesn’t seem to display any level of wisdom beyond his apparent 18 years of age other than taking steps to avoid fathering children knowing that they would cease to exist on his next replay.

Finally he meets Pamela, and through her an actual plot starts to form. It’s rather diluted because it’s infused with romance (actually an interesting line because of complications with wives and girlfriends from previous replays)

I’m only giving 3 stars to Replay for its blandidity, relieved only in the second half.

Paul

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Star ratings:

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