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May 13, 2010 / schulerbooks

One Man’s Trash: Time’s Arrow

Hopefully around 2.4 people are jumping for joy now that I’m doing this again (or clapping or something, I don’t know what situation that .4 person has). It feels like a million years since I last wrote, and I say that like I would say it took my parents a million years  to say goodbye at Christmas parties when I was a kid. I mean simply to say how anxious I was to get back to it.

As a refresher, I do these entries in two parts. I first peruse the used books section at Schuler, find something promising, and write my thoughts in One Man’s Trash. After reading the book, you get an objective review in Is Another Man’s Treasure. I pick up authors I know and some I don’t. If it’s one I don’t know, I hope not to perpetuate the misconceptions that most strangers have on who could be one of your favorite authors, but it could happen (If you really want to pick up an author, never use the line “I need your input in writing the ending to this night.” It might work on Harlequin writers, though). And I know this ain’t no big deal, it’s just sort of fun to see what kind of stuff people are throwing out.

Anyway, I return this week (er, month) with Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, which is sounding something like Schindler’s List meets Memento right now, or I mean… before later. Of course Random House’s Vintage International cover gave the book an authoritative appeal, but the title seemed vaguely familiar to me, and after reading the synopsis I was hooked. I’m a fan of haute surnaturel, if you will. No ankle-biting goblins or human incarnations of Satan intent on finding some DMV worker to impregnate just for, well, the hell of it. Phenomenons that stretch the imagination beyond the totally silly or the entirely realistic are what really fascinate me. And althought I’m sure Amis only uses this plot mechanism for purely literary means, it’s still an interesting approach. And here it is: Tod T. Friendly’s consciousness pulls a Benjamin Button on him, regressing from his death to his birth and witnessing everything in reverse. And according to one reviewer on the back cover, it portrays the “warped mentality” of the Nazis. So that explains the faintly swastika-like cover art.

I expect Amis’s Friendly to be sardonic and cynical, probably gifted in one way but flawed in every other. I’m wondering what Amis was willing to sacrifice to fit this chronicle into 165 pages, form or character. His intent is simple no doubt, as most short works have a very narrow focus. The story appears to be very Vonnegutian: compact, dark, witty, strangely moralistic, and World War Two-ey. And like Vonnegut, Amis will appeal to a very selective audience. As for me, I’m excited to see what Amis does with his perception of time. It wasn’t too long ago that I watched Primer, the ultimate drive-you-insane time travel movie for its refusal to explain anything that’s going on. Give it a chance before changing channels to Deja Vu, in which Denzel Washington is apparently unaccountable for causing six lane pileups that could’ve resulted in fatalities while trying to chase a terrorist who’s already blown stuff up. And for a cheekier take on people who experience life backwards, check out Jonathan Barnes’s The Somnaumbulist, a good Victorian riproarer if there ever was one. I’ll have to see how Time’s Arrow compares (probably a bit more serious).

-Patrick, Schuler Books

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