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Replay - Ken Grimwood
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

All poetic excerpts in this review are fromAuguries of Innocence by William Blake

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Ancient of Days by William Blake

October 18th, 1988 is an insignificant date, but for Jeff Winston it is a day that will live in infamy. He is on the phone with his soon to be ex-wife Linda when something punches him in the chest. It is a pain like he has never felt before as nerve signals are scrambling and the most critical muscle in his body stops working. When people have near death experiences they typically talk about their lives flashing before their eyes. Ken Grimwood takes this a step further as Winston finds himself waking up in 1963 about to replay his life. 

It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro' the world we safely go.

I can only imagine the discombobulated state of anyone waking up 25 years in the past. If this phenomenon happened to me today I would be waking up in 1989
I’d be 22 years old, almost finished with college and already I’m starting to think about things I would do different. The interesting aspect to this phenomenon is that Jeff Winston wakes up remembering his entire life up to when his heart gives a last shuddering heave. This is a similar concept to Groundhog Day as Bill Murray keeps waking up remembering everything he has done while repeating the same day over and over again; only Grimwood expands the scope of the idea. 24 hours becomes 25 years. 

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Chateaugay is the horse to the far right making young/old Jeff Winston a nice stack of green.

Jeff Winston is back in college, but who needs college when you know everything significant that is going to happen for the next twenty-five years starting with the horse that wins the Kentucky Derby. He sells everything worth selling including his car, borrows money from his parents, and convinces an upper classman, old enough to place a bet, to put every red cent he has mustered on Chateaugay to win. Chateaugay paid $20.80 to win and Jeff cleared a cool $17,000. It was only the beginning. (Just in case, covering my own future bets, I looked up the Derby winner in 1989...Sunday Silence.) Now I stated earlier, rather cavalierly, that Winston remembers his entire life for the next twenty-five years, but of course memory is faulty, and he continues to be amazed at the number of details he has forgotten about his personal life and how fuzzy he is about world events. He remembers enough to be able to keep making sure bets and keep adding to his wealth. 

The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation's fate.
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding-sheet.

His girlfriend Judy, the girl that feels she is being wild and crazy letting Jeff massage her breast on the OUTSIDE of her blouse, does offer to give him a handjob. This is 1963 still several years away from the summer of love, and the late ‘60s didn’t happen to all people, some had “two fifties and moved right into the seventies”. (Remember Annie Kinsella from Field of Dreams) Judy is fine and good for an inexperienced 18 year old, but then we have to remember that Jeff is actually 43 years old. What he needs is Sharla.

”She had fit right in with the fight crowd, had looked perfectly at home among the other pneumatic young women in their tight, flashy dresses and excessive makeup. Face it, he thought, glancing at her in the seat beside him. She looks cheap. Expensive but cheap; like Las Vegas, like Miami Beach. From the most cursory of appraisals it was clear to anyone that Sharla was, quite simply a machine designed for fucking. Nothing more. The very image of a Girl Not To Take Home To Mother.”

Sharla knows what a man wants whether he is 43 or 18, and Jeff is a mish mash of those two ages. The older Jeff is thinking I’ve never had sex with such an uninhibited woman in my entire life, and the younger Jeff is all libido. In essence, at least for a while, those two divergent people can enjoy the benefits that Sharla is so willing to provide. 

Jeff remembers that the Kennedy Assassination is coming up and feels he needs to do something about it. He engineers a situation that has Lee Harvey Oswald arrested. 

Kennedy still dies. 

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JFK Limousine

I won’t reveal what actually happened to insure that history continued as before, but it becomes clear that there are certain events that must happen. The interesting point about the Kennedy assassination is that until 9/11 happened the death of Kennedy was the singular event, the most impactful moment in time, that most people, if given the means and opportunity would want to change the outcome. When I asked my mom a few years ago where she was when Kennedy died, her eyes filled with tears and she couldn’t speak for a few minutes. Almost fifty years after the event, and the emotions surrounding that tragedy are still as raw as if it had just happened. 

Fiction is full of speculations about where the world would be if Kennedy had lived. Some show a better, more advance world, but others show a world that is much worse than the one we wake up in today. I think many of us feel, even those that were born after the event, that we were robbed of a better version of ourselves, a divergent self that died with Kennedy. #mythology

The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.

October 18th, 1988 Jeff Winston dies again and wakes up back in 1963. The empire he built with all those can’t lose gambling bets is gone. He builds a life with Judy after finding the Shallow Sharla route so unfulfilling. He dies again. He has a life with Linda. He dies again. He finds another “replayer” like himself named Pamela. They still both die again. They live frugally, off the grid. They still die at the same point in time regardless of what they do with their lives. They try going public hoping that scientists will be able to help them with what is happening. The CIA, not surprising, takes over their lives using their knowledge of the future to stop catastrophic events...against American interests only of course. 

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What do you do about people like Qaddafi?

The soldier, arm'd with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer's sun.
The poor man's farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Africa's shore.

At first Jeff and Pamela like helping, but soon discover the more they help the more treacherous the world becomes. 

Oh and each time they come back now they land in a different time period that shortens their cycle. A point of concern, no denying that. 

”If the flow of time is continuous--uninterrupted as far as the rest of the world is concerned, ignoring this loop you and I keep experiencing, and branching out from each version of the loop into new lines of reality depending on the changes we put into motion each time around--then history should have progressed twenty-five years for each replay we’ve been through.”

When I try wrapping my mind around time travel and the math associated with such concepts the pressure in my head usually has me looking for a shot of high octane alcohol to keep my brain from exploding into shards of disconnected thoughts. It wouldn’t be very useful after that.

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This book certainly had me thinking about what I would do if I had a chance to relive the last twenty-five years. At first there is a sense of excitement about being twenty-two again, looking like a Greek God again, but as I gave it more thought I realized that overall I’m very happy with my life. I’m not sure I’d trust fate enough to follow a different course. There are minor things I would fix, maybe look a little smarter by not saying the wrong thing this time around. I’d skirt around those points of stupidity that I use to bludgeon myself with when I’m feeling blue. I would bet enough on sporting events to become comfortable, but not enough to become obscenely wealthy. (How much money does anyone really need?) I would enjoy being young because only someone in their forties or older can truly enjoy all those wonderful fledgling benefits properly. 

This book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1988. I can certainly see why. Warning: reading this book will make you think.