Book Review: Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟 (3 stars)
Publisher: Ecco

It was thoroughly miserable existing in this hellscape with Adriane/Mary Ellen.

While reading I wondered if this was satire or just a commentary on the insistence people have to backward look and lament that things used to be so great in some old halcyon day. When the truth of the matter is that it was only great for a powerful privileged group. This is true in Adriane's totalitarian NAS23 (that's the North American States in the 23rd year after September 11, 2001) and the 1959 she's exiled to. I was hard-pressed to figure out which place would be better for her as she was subject to torture, ill-treatment and existed in bleak paranoia in both. I guess the one with her parents is at least the hell she knows. Anyway, with the parallels of both times, the theme also came across that while some things change, with a little determination on the part of some and/or apathy by others, we can collectively find ourselves not only back to a society heavily informed by fear and ignorance but completely ruled by it.

I never quite understood why the society Adriane originally lived in would bother teletransporting people into the past at all. It didn't quite track and then the idea that she hasn't really been teletransported is floated in the story but not taken to any definitive conclusion. Still, I ended the book thinking that there never was any teletransporting, just an elaborate simulation set up to re-educate and reprogram the "dangerous" free-thinkers. This is the only way I could make sense of the fact of Uncle Tobias.

I can't say that I enjoyed this but I did want to keep reading to see how it would resolve. Both her "love" interests were awful and so too was how her whole being was swallowed up by them (or given over to them) and that's more than enough said about those tedious threads. Adriane/Mary Ellen's story just ends with her either being trapped and utterly broken or completely resigned & immersed in her present life. I wasn't quite sure which she was and I'll likely ponder that for a few days.

Summary: “Time travel” — and its hazards—are made literal in this astonishing new novel in which a recklessly idealistic girl dares to test the perimeters of her tightly controlled (future) world and is punished by being sent back in time to a region of North America — “Wainscotia, Wisconsin”—that existed eighty years before. Cast adrift in time in this idyllic Midwestern town she is set upon a course of “rehabilitation”—but cannot resist falling in love with a fellow exile and questioning the constraints of the Wainscotia world with results that are both devastating and liberating.

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