by Larry Higdon
PDF, 216 pg.
Tate Publishing, 2011
Read: January 22 – 23, 2016
Before I start, you might want to take a gander at the quick Q&A I did with the author, Larry Higdon. I’ll be more vague than he was on some plot details.
Johnson (everyone calls him Johnson — he’s not all that crazy about the rest of his name) is not having a great day — traffic is horrible, if not dangerous; he’s got a headache that passed “killer” a while back — it’s even effecting his vision — and he’s got more assorted aches and pains than he can count. Before he makes things worse, he pulls to the side of the road to try to stop the headache with a nap — and at least not have to deal with rush hour.
Things get interesting when he wakes — he doesn’t recognize the car that he’s in, or his clothes, the face in the review mirror, or . . . much of anything. The city looks like Atlanta, but, it’s not quite right — it’s almost impossible to find a pay phone, for one thing. Then he sees a newspaper and reads the date: 2008? Wait a second, he went to sleep in 1981! Didn’t he? Using the address he finds in the glove box and a map he buys at a gas station, he finds his apartment, and starts trying to figure out what’s going on. He’s got a picture of his girlfriend, who seems to be as advanced in age as he is, but there’s no sign of her anywhere.
The possible explanations don’t seem to work for him — he can remember everything (except the last 17 years) perfectly, so he rules out amnesia. Is it time travel? What about magic, mysticism? Something else?
The exploration of what happened with him will lead Johnson to all sorts of self-evaluation — none of which will be pleasant. Maybe learning about his missing years isn’t such a good idea after all. But he just might get the chance to repair some relationships — and do something meaningful.
Shortly after Johnson starts to figure out what’s going on in earnest, we get some flashbacks to where he meets his girlfriend, Katy, and we watch the beginnings of their relationship as it develops as his baseball career stumbles. On the whole, this section did very little for me, although I really enjoyed the parts about baseball, and would’ve really liked more. Now, there is no narrative need for more baseball, in fact, the story might be better served leaving it as vague as it is, so this is just a personal preference. Still, I wanted to see more baseball.
Things pick back up once we leave the flashback and get into solving the problem that is Johnson, and that carries through to the end — which includes things that defy rational explanation, but that really work in context.
I’m not convinced that I liked any of the characters — I might grow to like a few with a little more time. It’s hard to know what to think of Johnson, for example, since he’s so uncertain, so in flux (I’m willing to bet I like him a few months after the events of the book, assuming he stays on the track he’s on). I didn’t dislike anyone, I’m just not sure. Dr. Pfeiffer had potential, as did Johnson’s daughter, Zoe.
I have a minor gripe: anachronisms. Nothing horrible, but I caught a couple that were big enough to take me out of the moment. There was a mention of Prozac in 1982 (six years before released), and Johnson shouldn’t have been familiar with Caller ID if he was stuck in ’81 (although that one could be intentional, pointing to a possible explanation of what’s going on in his head). Yes, these aren’t that major, and no plot points hinged on these, but when I came across them I had to stop, whip out my smartphone to see if they were appropriate. That deserves a strike or two.
In the end, I wrote in my notes, “Oddly affecting, sorta snuck up on me.” I started off intrigued by the premise, and interested in seeing how Higdon solved things. Then I got sorta bored with the flashback, and then by the time we were in ’08 again, I was invested in this story. It’s not the best book you’ll read this year, but it’s a good one, and you’ll be glad you did.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review, and I think I got the better end of the deal.