Monday, December 29, 2014

Time Travel in a Fever Sweat

Perhaps because I had recently reread Amitav Ghosh's wonderful The Calcutta Chromosome, I was primed to accept the premise of William M. Dean's The Space Between Thought. What if, as other philosophers have speculated, all time exists at once, and it is only our perception that imposes a linear order upon it? If that is true, then maybe mind-altering (and thus perception-altering) drugs would allow us to change, even reverse, its flow.

Simon Sykes is a fortunate man. He owns a business he loves, has a girlfriend, Celeste, who loves him and completes him, and he also has a gift for attracting women into one-night stands and brief affairs. Everything is going very well for him, until his girlfriend commits suicide, and Simon's life falls apart.

Everyone around Simon accepts the death as suicide, even though Celeste left no note. But Simon arrived home just after Celeste's death and saw a ghostly figure near the window, so he isn't buying suicide. He thinks he knows who killed his girlfriend, but can't tell the police because that would reveal his own cowardice.

Now things really begin to spin out of control for him. By chance, he discovers that, in a certain frame of mind, he can slow time to a crawl. Nothing else slows down, though. Simon almost suffocates in the space of a few minutes because he can't get enough air into his lungs. If he can slow the flow of time, could he reverse it and go back to change his actions that led to the disastrous night of Celeste's suicide?

Dean has made a bold choice to open the novel with the pre-climactic scene depicted on the cover: a cocktail of drugs, some of them poisonous, is infused into tea which Simon drinks before he realizes its contents. Despite this information, and all the other foreshadowing action in the novel, the first climax comes as a surprise, and the final twist is totally unanticipated.

I almost set the book aside at first, because Simon at the beginning is a total fool. He has so much to envy, and values none of it highly. Celeste's death seems almost a punishment for his indifference. Then I was drawn into his struggle to make things right, despite his pathetic focus on incidentals such as which person he had been unfaithful to Celeste with. 

In the end, I was glad I had not given up on Simon or his struggle. Because in this concept of the passage of time, all ends are possible. A happy ending is not only possible, but inevitable, where we can amend time.

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