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I’ve never really talked too much about it here on the Robot Panic, but I’m a pretty huge fan of Lost. My love for the show turned to an out and out obsession as soon as they added one of my favorite conventions, time travel, to the series in force this last season. Something about the idea of time traveling has always grabbed me. Blame Back to the Future and the impressionable age I was in when I first viewed it for that one. At any rate, my obsession with Lost led me to few writers who many consider to be “scholars” on the subject of the ABC hit. Go ahead and laugh if you will, but these guys dig deep into this stuff. While I see these episodes as a fun hour long escapism session, these guys are finding allusions to Greek Mythology and parallels to the religious rites of passage found in ancient Mayan culture. I’m serious. So it was that while reading one of these Lost authoritarians, I was directed to the book Replay by Ken Grimwood.
Published in 1987, Replay tells the story of a 43 year old radio news director named Jeff Winston. One day at work, Jeff dies of a heart attack and rather than finding himself in the “great beyond”, he awakens in his college dorm room in 1963. Not just a dream or a twisted afterlife, Jeff realizes that he is again 19 years old and has his whole life to live over again. Jeff then proceeds on a journey of reliving or “replaying” his life from 1963 to his death in 1988 over and over again. Each time he dies and lives again, he carries with him all the memories from each of his former lives. During the perpetual cycle that his life has become, Jeff tries everything from being with the women he never married to becoming a wealthy billionaire. All the while, Jeff is trying to figure out just what the meaning and purpose of these replays are.
While Replay is a story of time travel, what makes the book stand apart is how the convention is used to tell a much bigger tale of the lives we all lead and what exactly matters. Like all great works of fiction, it’s not so much the tools or the “gimmick” that’s used but how that device is used to tell a much broader story that gives us some great character insight. While the idea of living your life over and over again may make you think of the Harold Ramis classic “Groundhog Day”, the reality is that Replay was written well before that classic film. In fact, many believe that “Groundhog Day” took many of it’s cues from Grimwood’s book. The character of Jeff Winston is a typical American who feared to take the risks necessary to make his dreams come true. In all honestly, his first life may have been lived with his dreams and direction undefined. This is something we all feel and can understand. As Jeff tries his life over and over again, his attempts at taking more risks lead to both success and heartbreak. In the process, his discovery of what his life is about and what matters most becomes more and more apparent.
The book has garnered some rave reviews, including the World Fantasy Award in 1988. Critic Daniel D. Shade encapsulated the themes of the book in his 2001 review:
“Yet in spite of all the pain and anguish we go through as we follow Jeff through his search for an understanding of why he is replaying his life, the book has some important things to say to the reader. First, life is full of endless happenings that we have little control over. We should live our lives with our eyes set upon the horizon and never look back, controlling those things we can and giving no second thought to those events out of our hands. Second, given that we only have one life to live (Jeff is never sure he will replay again with each heart attack) we should live it to the fullest extent possible and with the least regret for our actions. Everybody makes mistakes; the point is not to dwell on them but to pick ourselves up and keep on going. Keep moving ahead. Third, choices must be made—we cannot avoid them. The only failure is to live a life without risks. In fact, I believe Jeff Winston would advise risking everything for those you love and for the life you want for them and with them. To not experience risk is to fail. And what does Replay have to say to a poor, old man like me who is still going though his mid-life crisis? Just this—that every year will be new. Every day a new chance to begin again. There can be no mid-life crisis when we are living each day to the fullest extent possible. From what Jeff Winston has taught me, I would define mid-life crisis as a period of selfishness when we turn inward and think only of ourselves. Jeff inspires us to look outward toward others and think less of ourselves.”
Replay is a fantastic read and one that makes you really think about the direction of your life and the implications of only getting to live it once. For anyone at that point in your life where you’re looking at what direction to take and weighing the risks of a bold new step, I recommend you check this one out. The perspective gained may well be worth the time. Even if you’re settled into a steady life of safety, this book gives a new point of view on which to look at your life. A highly recommended read, and one that’s available for fairly cheap at your local bookstore.