Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Well Thumbed Book: Replay by Ken Grimwood

by Karen Adler

There are very few books that my entire family has read and enjoyed. Replay by Ken Grimwood is one of them. I’m an omnivore when it comes to books—I love books of all genres. My dad favors books of the science fiction/thriller persuasion, while my mom enjoys literary yet suspenseful novels. As for my sister: Her tastes follow no discernible pattern, although she likes speculative and high-concept fiction. Replay fits into all of these categories.

The novel begins with the end. Jeff Winston, an unsuccessful forty-three-year-old journalist, dies. He wakes up and discovers it’s 1963, and he’s an eighteen-year-old college student at Emory University. And he knows every historical event that’s going to occur for the next twenty-five years—including who’ll win every World Series and presidential election. Shocked and unable to explain what has happened to him, he gathers his wits and places a bet on the Kentucky Derby, which he of course wins.

In this re-run of life, he makes it big in investing—but it all comes to nothing when he hits age forty-three and dies again. This time, he doesn’t live life for money. In each iteration of his life—“replays,” as he calls them—he struggles to understand what is happening to him. What happens when he tries to make his predicament public? What if he’s not the only one?

Ken Grimwood’s portrayal of Jeff Winston is so clever and believable that I wonder whether he hasn’t replayed his life at least once. If my whole family can agree to love this book, then yours will too.

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