These days it seems like I can’t get up to walk to the fridge and grab a beer without tripping over another novel about dimension-hole-ripping-time-traveling-dude protagonists.
This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. These stories can be really fun little slices of genre lit. Hell, one of my bestest buddies wrote a good one. It just seems like this kind of tale is getting a lot of play lately. There’s always some guy. This guy is always a little imperfect. And somehow this guy becomes the bracket upon which all of space-time hinges. Also probably he will sleep with some women.
Hot on the heels of having read (and enjoyed) Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter during my Mexican Odyssey, I’ve now tackled Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Days. I enjoyed it. I did not enjoy it nearly as much as it seems to enjoy itself.
The central conceit of All Our Wrong Days goes like this: a perpetual fuck-up living in a Utopian futuristic version of our present works for his father on a time travel project and fucks a bunch of things up, so he travels back in time to the key moment that instigated his Utopian world, where he proceeds to fuck that moment up. When he gets back to the present, it is no longer his present… it is our present.
I cannot deny that this premise is terrific. Our reality being the dystopian fuck-up timeline is utterly perfect. It’s just that the book really knows it and reminds us of how clever it is from page 1.
There’s certainly fun to be had along the way. A great deal of smart, well-structured detail goes into describing how amazing the original Utopian timeline is, with a sharp satirical edge that’s a pleasure to read. This is delivered entirely through a memoir-style narrative from a protagonist whose chief skill seems to be glib comments about what is and what could have been. Given the amount of time that we spend with him in the book, it is a shame that I didn’t like him very much.
Tom Barren, the time traveler and centre-of-the-universe in this novel, is – at best – a totally self-centred screw-up with an incredibly problematic attitude toward women. Even when he thinks that he is addressing his self-centred behaviour, he’s being self-centred about it. Even when he’s admitting to his problematic attitude toward women, he is demonstrating a problematic attitude toward women. Given the kind of novel that this is, it’s not much of a spoiler to explain that there’s a timeline-instigated personality fragmentation that brings us a protagonist how is even worse than Tom, seemingly to make us think of Tom as more of a good guy. It doesn’t really work.
A lot of it doesn’t work. I found myself fairly interested in a lot of the concepts at play and the notion that we are the dystopia, and not at all interested in whatever Tom had going on. Tom’s story plays out largely like a quirky romantic comedy where the audience is forced to root for him because every other man is either completely two-dimensional or an actual monster.
At the end of the day, this book was fine. I had some fun reading it, there were a few undeniably clever turns and when the shit really hits the fan, the book shines. There is, though, a lingering feeling that this book never really exceeds the pleasure of its initial premise. Pair that with its smug tone and the role that women play in it, I would have to recommend other books that play in the same sandbox before I would recommend this one.
Even though it has a few interesting things to say, it seems like the kind of book that you wouldn’t want to corner you at a party.