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Thursday, August 5, 2010
The premise of the timequake is that for some reason the universe contracted and everyone went back 10 years in time. What makes this a particularly devastating event is that everyone is conscious, but unable to change anything about the events that they travel through.
Honestly I don't know how a novel like this could have ended up as anything less than spectacular, especially in the hands of a master like Vonnegut. I guess some ideas just look good on the outline but fall flat on the page. It's also possible that he was looking to wrap up a long career of writing, his next book, A Man Without a Country, was his last. It's always possible that Vonnegut is having another joke with us by claiming that the timequake concept fell flat and spinning out a suitable autobiography.
Timequake is a story of free will and regrets. We deal with out pasts by remembering the exciting parts and coloring the unpleasant parts until they are in a suitable form for our inner narrative. In Memento the character Leonard says "Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts." Dealing with events long put to bed and having to see them in vivid detail would be painful and maddening and living through the long boring stretches in between with nothing to do but reflect on them would only heighten the torture. I suppose there are a rare few that have lived life to the fullest, learned from their mistakes and gathered their self worth from simply being, but that aspect of the human condition may simply be myth.
Here's the beautiful part of my reading of Timequake. I had actually read it 11 years ago, when I was single and living in an apartment in Salt Lake with my friends Dave and Jerus. Even though I was in my older 20s at that time I just didn't have the concept of good art being a mirror and spent my whole time reading the book thinking about war, poverty and injustice rather than thinking of myself as an actor. In my mind I was an impartial observer of the world stage. Now that I've actually gathered a bit of ability to self reflect, it was like reading a whole different book.
I really can't imagine going through all the petty fights with family members, the foolish things I've said when I've dropped my guard more than I intended, the mistakes I've made. Sometimes life deals you situations where you should have said or done something and didn't and I would not want to live through those again. Dealing with time in a linear fashion the mistakes can be seen as learning opportunities but I have no doubt that seeing them acted out in the world's more realistic puppet show would drive the most clear headed among us to insanity.
There would be joyful days too, like the days my children were born and the morning I was told my daughter would survive her meningitis. I can't see what I would usually call a good day seeming anything but petty if I was put through 10 years full of time to just think, when all the doing is taken care of by my past self. I suppose that's what Vonnegut was reaching for when he dreamed the book up.
Vonnegut walks the fine line between parody and satire and crosses over into cynicism. For example one story meant to capture the death of eloquence in America uses Lincoln's speech as he leaves Illinois as an example of what great leadership and eloquence we used to celebrate. The speech he uses as an example though is actually a mash-up of three Lincoln speeches. How can you glory in the day to day when the memories you have of the past are larger than life? I think that a timequake could also bring some peace to anyone who glories in a past time when things were better than they are now.
So if you read this book, I suggest you give it another turn in 10 years and see what your own timequake would feel like. God willing I have another date with this book sometime around 2020.