Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

Book clubs are supposed to push you outside of your comfort zone so I occasionally suggest books to my book club that will do just that for me. In the case of Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave, I am neither a big music person nor a time travel reader so this was meant to stretch me in a couple of ways while still having enough familiar things in it to still keep me reading. (Do I know how to choose books outside my bubble or what?) And my book club, which is made up of people who are pretty like minded, agreed to go down this path with me.

Karl Bender is the former guitarist for the 90s indie rock band Axis and now owns a bar in Chicago. He is jaded and cynical but he does manage to have one friend, Wayne, a computer scientist. When Karl accidentally stumbles into a wormhole in the back of his closet, he tells Wayne about it and Wayne figures out a way to harness the energy of the wormhole. The two set up a business sending people back in time to see epic concerts they missed or ones they want to revisit. And that might have been all that happened with this odd portal until Karl sends Wayne to 980 Mannahatta instead of 1980 Manhattan. One typo and he's sent his best and only friend to a place where there's no power source to tap into to bring him back. Luckily Wayne can still communicate with the present via text and he suggests that Karl find an expert to help bring him back. So Karl looks through the Northwestern website and chooses astrophysics PhD student Lena Geduldig, mainly because she doesn't look like a stereotypical astrophysicist with her blue streaked hair and her band t-shirt. Karl might have lost Wayne but now he's got Lena and she comes with a freight train of her own baggage. Yet when these two people meet and start traveling to concerts together (leaving the issue of retrieving Wayne aside for the moment), they fall into a relationship. Eventually, like Wayne's desire to meddle in the past to save John Lennon's life, the impulse that landed him in 980, Lena wants to go back in time and change things about her own past, jeopardizing what she and Karl have and leading to the question whether we can or should right past wrongs if we have the chance.

Karl narrates the entire novel so that the reader is spared highly technical and detailed explanations of how the time travel portal works and how first Wayne and then Lena have harnessed its power. Asking the reader to simply suspend disbelief might be fine except that once time moves forward and backwards and spirals around itself, it can and does get confusing without any sort of grounding to explain it. in fact, I'm still not entirely certain where in the timeline we are at the end of the book. Neither Karl nor Lena are particularly appealing characters and their chemistry as a couple, at all points in the novel, is mostly missing or terrifically one-sided which makes it hard to root for Karl as he attempts to recapture a love that wasn't all that believable in the first place. I'm pretty certain I missed most of the music, band, and pop culture references. For those who catch the name drops and references, I suspect the story would be a more nostalgic, quirky romp than it was for me. The second half of the novel is much darker than the first half and deals with much weightier issues like rape, loss, fat acceptance, love, and belonging. I really wanted to thoroughly enjoy this book, to prove to myself that my little reading bubble could easily expand if I was intrigued enough with the underlying themes but it didn't click with me as much as I'd hoped. Maybe it's because of my usual reading preferences. Or maybe not. If you don't mind your characters on the emo side, you are an indie music geek, and you aren't too fussed by time travel that just is, you might really enjoy this book in ways I just couldn't.

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