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Hazards of Time Travel

Review

Hazards of Time Travel

Is there a genre in which Joyce Carol Oates doesn’t excel? Her latest novel, HAZARDS OF TIME TRAVEL, is science fiction, a story set in both a dystopian future and a naïve, simpler past. Like so much of what Oates has written in her long career, the book is fantastic in its detailed descriptions, evocative passages of longing and loss, and characters whose pain you ache over.

The novel opens with a description of a regimented America that tightly classifies individuals by gender, class, color and other markers, an America that is oppressive and controlling. So commanding a country, the citizens live in constant fear of the possibility of being exiled or terminated completely. Oates goes into great detail about the class mentality that exists and draws eerie parallels to the issues of discrimination that are currently troubling in the United States.

"Like so much of what Oates has written in her long career, the book is fantastic in its detailed descriptions, evocative passages of longing and loss, and characters whose pain you ache over."

The lead character Adriane Strohl, the daughter of a demoted doctor, is smart --- perhaps too smart for the governing class. When elected valedictorian of her high school and offered a rare scholarship to college (which has the potential to ensure a better future than most can hope for), Adriane crosses a dangerous line by writing a valedictory speech that poses questions about the supervising authorities. The Youth Disciplinary Division of Homeland Security arrests her even before she can give her speech. Her fate is now in question, and she is separated from her loving family.

After enduring an interrogation and witnessing the demise of another student, Adriane’s future is selected. She is sent to the past, branded an Exiled Individual, with the promise that she will return after four years if she is well-behaved --- in other words, if she is reconditioned to Homeland Security’s liking.

Adriane becomes Mary Ellen Enright, an orphaned college freshman, who arrives at university in Wainscotia, Wisconsin, in 1959 with nothing more than a box of secondhand clothing. She is cast into a room with perky roommates who are more interested in meeting their future husbands than in actually studying. Mary Ellen is a loner and lonely. She never quite learns to fit in and struggles daily with the memories of her family and adjusting to archaic typewriters, rotary phones and the like.

Until one day she happily suspects she has found a kindred spirit, another exile, in her psychology professor Ira Wolfman. It takes time and perseverance on her part to finally break through his well-crafted and necessary protective barriers, but she finally finds a friend. Their friendship leads to love, and then a harrowing escape attempt that sets Mary Ellen on a devastating future path.

As the story unfolds, one can’t help but see how HAZARDS OF TIME TRAVEL could translate to film, as it is not unlike the Hunger Games series or similar tales of overcoming oppression. It also begs for a sequel, a continuation of Adriane/Mary Ellen’s story. Readers will be left wanting more, in a good way.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on December 7, 2018

Hazards of Time Travel
by Joyce Carol Oates

  • Publication Date: November 27, 2018
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062319590
  • ISBN-13: 9780062319593