25 June 2018

An Ocean of Minutes / Thea Lim

Polly and Frank met, fell in love, and secretly planned to get married. One day, they decided to drive from Buffalo, NY to New Orleans, but somehow overshot it by 3 hours. They ended up in Texas, where they got stuck because of the flu epidemic that rapidly spread throughout the country.

When Frank develops the disease, Polly, to get him access to health benefits, signs on to travel 12 years into the future where she'll work off her bond to TimeRaiser, the company that controls the technology that makes this possible. But something goes wrong: she winds up 5 years later than stipulated in her agreement, and must now try to find Frank — if he's still alive.

This sounded like a fantastic premise, and I was interested to see how the author would explore someone's reaction to being placed in such distressing circumstances. 

We follow Polly in a post-pandemic world where a vast proportion of the population has died, the country has split in two, and time-travellers are brought in as an indentured workforce to perform different tasks depending on their skill level and housed according to their status. Everything is disorientating, intractable and nonsensical.

Alas, Polly never seems to get over the dazed stage of her experience; she staggers around, anesthetized, impotently looking for Frank; she asks the wrong questions, makes the wrong decisions; then one day, just a few months later, she simply gives up on seeking for the love of her life. After her initial flurry of ineffectual activity, she becomes almost apathetic, expecting Frank to come to her rescue. I think this last point sums up Polly both before and after her trip to the future: the only times anything happens to her are when other people make it happen for her, taking her hand and guiding her step by step. She demonstrates very little will of her own, making her a tremendously dull main protagonist.

All of the emotions that may be predicted in an individual who, because of their deep devotion to someone, was uprooted and set down in the same spot but in an unfamiliar world — fear, despair, loss, hope, loneliness, discouragement, anger — are mimed rather than experienced with any kind of depth. I tried my best to feel sympathy for Polly, but hers is such a flat, untextured surface that there was nothing on which to grab hold.

This book has an unengaging and frustrating plot that lost my interest long before its baffling conclusion. Everything remains superficial, most notably the dialogues: people don't have conversations, they vaguely utter sentences in each other's general direction. As a reader, I was expecting some revelations about the human condition or insights into people's motivations, but was sorely disappointed.

I was provided with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: **

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