jueves, 7 de mayo de 2015

Repeat, by Neal Pollack

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Beer and Weed, by The Neal Pollack Invasion (SpotifyYouTube).

Repeat, by Neal Pollack, is a novel that, by my usual standards, I should have not liked. It has two or three quite evident problems that, in any other case, would have thrown me completely out of the book. But, despite those problems, I quite enjoyed Repeat and I even found some parts of it to be nothing but brilliant. Let me elaborate a little bit more. 

The plot of Neal Pollack's novel is, by no means, original. The idea of someone trapped in a time loop and forced to relive the same experiences once and again (possibly learning a valuable lesson in the process) has been popularized by movies such as the famous Groundhog Day, but has been also central to many books and short stories. Right off the top of my mind, I could name a number of them: All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (of which I talked here, in Spanish), The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North (whose review, in Spanish, by Antonio Díaz I published earlier this week) and, especially, Replay, by Ken Grimwood, an all-time favorite of mine. In fact, Repeat has many, many points in common with Replay, starting, obviously, with the title. 

Of course, Pollack is quite aware of his influences and even acknowledges them a couple of times in the book:
“Infinite time loop,” he said in the car on the way home.
“What?” Juliet said.
“That’s what I pitched to Fox today. A show about an infinite time loop.”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“It’s about a guy who’s trapped in an infinite time loop and doesn’t know how to get out.”
“You mean like Groundhog Day?”
“No, more sci-fi. He keeps bounding around to different times of his life, and he can’t get out.”
“So, like Quantum Leap?”
“No, not at all. It’s got more comedy in it than that.”
“Like Hot Tub Time Machine?”
Back to the Future?”
“I wish.”   
Another, more serious issue, is that the novel has a slow start. You've read the synopsis and you're expecting the good, old time loop to make its appearance, but all you get for the first fifty pages or so is the story of a weed-smoker writer with a midlife crisis. I confess that, a couple of times, I was on the verge of quitting. Fortunately, I decided to give the book a chance and soon things got much, much better.

If you're able to endure that first, dull part, you will find that there is much to like in Repeat. On the one hand, the book has a lot of humor. For instance, I couldn't help laughing out loud with sentences such as "Brad's landlady hadn't made any repairs to the place since Madonna was like a virgin". On the other, once the time loop begins, the pace of the book is much quicker and the chapters read like a breeze. The plot is just what you would expect of this kind of time-loop story (had you noticed that every character with knowledge of the future tries, at some point, to buy Apple stock to get rich?) and the ending is more than a bit predictable, but it will keep you interested anyway, especially because of some clever twists that give a more profound meaning to the novel.

And that is exactly what I enjoyed the most about Repeat. After all the clichés and usual situations, Pollack sets his main character, with a couple of memorable chapters, in a state of extreme confusion and anxiety, which is the perfect metaphor for the crisis he was experiencing at the beginning of the novel. This part of the book is worth the entrance fee alone, and I especially liked a very meta-literary scene in which the author becomes a character of the novel. In fact, there are many fragments with a clearly autobiographical inspiration and it adds a lot of depth to the overall story (although some of the references might be lost to those, like me, not that familiar with American politics). 

All in all, I recommend reading Repeat, especially if you enjoyed Replay by Ken Grimwood. Just a warning: be patient and give the book some time (no pun intended!) to start in earnest. You will be rewarded... in time.  

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

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