Dana Kaplan, who emailed me recently, describes herself as “a recently retired marketing and business development professional living in Watertown, Massachusetts, who enjoys reading, writing, gardening and cooking—and now has lots more time for all of these interests.” She’s the official record-keeper for a book discussion group that has been meeting monthly for over 30 years. She goes on to write, “My book group reads fiction and non-fiction, but I’m the only one with a passion for books (and movies) about time travel. Here’s one I wanted to share with your readers.”
As a big fan of time travel books myself, I was thrilled to meet another fan. And once you read Dana’s suggestion, try Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer, which remains one of my all time favorites, though it was written over 30 years ago.
Here’s her review:
Guest Blog by Dana Kaplan
If you could go back in time and change things, where—and when—would you go? Would you try to eliminate a historical monster like Hitler or an assassin or serial killer? Would you try to prevent a personal tragedy or save a loved one? Or would you give in to greed and set yourself up financially, say by taking advantage of the stock market? Peter Delacorte’s Time on My Hands is about going back in time to rewrite political history, specifically 20th century American political history. The history to be rewritten is Ronald Reagan’s presidency, thus eliminating, in the novel’s words, “all the vulgarity, hypocrisy, all that banality, that occurred between 1980 and 1988.” The hero, an itinerant travel writer, is challenged to go back in time, not to kill Reagan, but to “take care of things so he doesn’t become president.” Set in 1994, the book reflects its time and the politics of its author, who isn’t shy about voicing his opinions. Reagan, to Delacorte, is “a shell, a charming automaton with lots of rich, nasty people. . . plutocratic sociopaths. . . standing over him, pulling the strings.”
The book takes its time setting out the premise, describing the device (a cross between a speedboat and a bicycle), and dealing with the nuts and bolts of surfing the time dimension. But once our hero, Gabriel Prince, arrives in 1938 Hollywood and hooks up with a luscious (but apparently doomed) starlet and a B-list supporting actor fresh from Illinois, things happen quickly. This is a view of the 40th president few of us know. He’s “Dutch,” not Ronnie; Ree-gun, not Ray-gun; and he’s distinctly to the left of center on the political spectrum.
For classic film buffs, Delacorte captures the period detail well and the pictures are a hoot. The author has fun setting up Gabriel as a screenwriter pitching a new concept in westerns. It’s about a sheriff, on his wedding day, facing a gang of bad guys out for revenge, due to arrive on the afternoon train. The movie moguls love the concept, the script, all but the incessant shots of the clock. “The audience may be stupid,” says the studio head, “but they can tell time!”
The book takes a surprising direction midway through when Dutch accidentally drowns. Going back to the future, Gabriel ends up in 1984, not 1994—a 1984 without Ronald Reagan. Remorseful about his role in the death of his friend, Gabriel heads back to 1938. Unfortunately, it seems there are many parallel threads of history, not just one. To make matters worse, the time machine has become unreliable; its space/time GPS system is in serious need of a tune-up. Furthermore, two French punks from the early 22nd century show up and claim ownership of the time machine. Worst of all, the time machine may only be good for so many trips—or so many years—but how many? You can see why Gabriel ends up with “time on his hands.”