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At one time or another, we’ve all said, “If only I had known then what I know now”, or “If I had it to do over, I would…”, either quietly to ourselves or out loud. The idea of traveling back in time and rewriting history is hardly new, and the concept has been profiled repeatedly in literature, television and film.
Nevertheless, a select few titles tend to stand out as classics in the genre, such as H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and movies like Back to the Future, and The Terminator. Author and stand-up comedian Bob Smith’s second novel, Remembrance of Things I Forgot (Terrace Books), is a funny, touching and ferociously entertaining tale of time travel that has the potential to become such a classic.
John Sherkston, a comic book dealer, and his partner, Taylor Esgard, a brilliant physicist, have been together for more than a decade. The two haven’t been getting along lately, especially since Taylor was born again as a card-carrying Republican. One evening in 2006, John decides he has had enough and plans to break up with him. Yet before he can get the words out, Taylor proclaims to have made history by inventing the world’s first time machine.
When John is left alone with this breakthrough mechanism, he accidentally transports himself back to 1986. Once he recovers from the initial shock, John soon realizes the advantages to turning back the clock and tries to prevent some of the more horrific events of the past twenty years, like his sister’s downward spiral into depression, his father’s untimely death, and even the election of George W. Bush.
Knowing his disappearance has aroused suspicion in the present, John joins forces with his younger self, whom he refers to as Junior, and a younger Tyler, in a literal race against time. Their journey takes them across the entire country, beginning in the South Bronx, including stops in Buffalo, Texas, New Mexico and California.
On its own, the sequence of events makes for a compelling read, but it is Smith’s voice and signature wit, personified in the mind and spoken words of his protagonist, John, that make this novel so much more than just an adventurous road trip. The pages literally sparkle with clever, bristling, darkly comic commentary on everything from relationships and technology to politics and the environment, and how well or poorly each has evolved from then to now.
While the story is essentially a collection of outlandish incidents, Smith has created a colorful assortment of genuine, engaging characters who speak from the heart. Even those readers who are quick to dismiss a novel about time travel as absurd will be impressed or amused, at least, by the author’s choice of words and keen storytelling ability.
Bob Smith’s Remembrance of Things I Forgot is a delightful, moving portrait of a man who is given the rare opportunity to literally revisit his past, and the novel will likely be considered one of this year’s best.
Remembrance of Things I Forgot
by Bob Smith
Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press
Hardcover, 9780299283407, 272 pp.