by Kim Van Sickler
By pure chance, three of the last books I've read treated time as a fluid concept. The designations between past, present and in one case, the future blurred. Events in the past were shown to have enormous significance further along in time. And the stories were told via the narrator(s) gliding back and forth to different time periods, furthering the impression that time was elastic and we, the readers, were time travelers.
I thought this mode of storytelling was fun and exciting, and kept the reader on her toes for actual time travel books like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.
And it follows that we'd slip back and forth in time in the book I'm currently reading, M.J. Rose's The Reincarnationist. The main character in this book is seriously injured in a bomb blast, and when he recovers, finds himself especially attuned to two of his past lives: one a hundred years ago, and one, closer to seventeen hundred years earlier.
But this time slipping device was also used quite effectively by A.S. King in Please Ignore Vera Dietz . The story starts in the present, but then chapters jump back and forth between the past and present until Vera comes to terms with what she needs to do for herself and her dead former best friend Charlie...and does it. The time travel aspect of storytelling here is purely for the benefit of illustrating how Vera has to come to terms with her past to fix her future. There's a bonus of a parallel story involving her father. And the book spotlights how our past actions (or inactions) can come back to haunt us. King could have told her tale chronologically, but she opted for a nonlinear way to communicate with us. It was an effective way to pull me in, keep me actively engaged, and connect the dots.
And for a story that takes time and turns it on its head, there's Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. There isn 't one star in this book, but rather a series of characters who rub up against one another, leaving a lasting effect. Each chapter is another opportunity for Egan to turn the tables on us, leaving us to navigate which character, at which point in their life, is narrating, and how the chapters interrelate. This is POV time travel on steroids. Nothing is off limits here, even traveling into the future. For readers who like twists and turns and scenic routes in their storytelling, this book is a must read.
Have you read any of the books I've mentioned here, or others that allow you to slip between past, present, and/or future with ease? Do you find it disconcerting or exhilarating? Have you tried writing that way yourself?