TIME ON MY HANDS
by Peter Delacorte
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Peter Delacorte's Time On My Handsopens with the appearance of being an existential time travel story. If you can get past the first chapter, however, the existentialism fades and the story settles down. The novel describes the chance meeting in Paris of Jasper Hudnut, an eccentric American scientist, and Gabriel Prince, a recently-jilted travel writer. After determining a similarity in politics, Hudnut enlists Prince for a mission to use a time machine Hudnut has found. Prince agrees to travel back in time to sidelines the career of the man Hudnut believes to be the most evil and destructive politician of the twentieth century.
Upon Prince's arrival in 1938, he falls in love with Hudnut's cousin, Lorna, gains a job at Warner Brothers and begins churning out scripts for such films as Four o'Clock, a western about a sheriff who marries a Quaker and agrees to give up his job and violence on the very day his nemesis is released from jail and comes to kill the sheriff.
In the process of establishing an identity in 1938, Princebecomes friends with the very politician he is meant to destroy: Ronald "Dutch" Reagan.
The idea of Ronald Reagan as the most evil and destructive politician of the twentieth century is, of course, laughable in the face of Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, etc. Hudnut's portrayal of Reagan as such becomes even more ludicrous in light of the likable, malleable and ineffectual Dutch Reagan befriended by Prince.
Time paradoxes are glossed over by Delacorte who instead proposes myriad timelines running in parallel. Whenever Prince's actions would cause a paradox, he seems to find himself in a slightly different timeline.
Although Delacorte has a good sense of time, one gets the feeling much of his research was done simply by examining newspapers from 1938 (especially the sports page) and menus. Including the prices Prince and Lorna pay for dinner and groceries really doesn't add anything to the book and, in fact, frequently detracts from the flow of the story when the parenthetical remarks appear. Many of the items he includes seem specifically to play off this research, although his tracking of the 1938 Cubs towards their National League pennant makes a sort of sense since Reagan had announced Cubs games only a few years earlier. Nevertheless, Prince's interest in the baseball season does not come across as realistic.
Taking a page from the other mainstream time travel novel, Time and Again, Delacorte includes several period pictures in the book. Although the pictures don't detract from the story, they don't really add a whole lot, either. Many are simply stills from Reagan's films, but a few are used to illustrate the text, theoretically taken with a Leica camera Prince purchased shortly after his arrival in 1938.
Delacorte's strongest skill in Time On My Hands is his depiction of likable characters. The fictional Prince and Lorna come across as real. Reagan also has a certain realism, tinted with naivete. Prince's twenty-second century nemesis Jean-Baptiste, doesn't come across real well, with very little background turning him into a cardboard figure. Lorna's ex-lover, Bill Wadsworth, however, fares much better and seems as realistic and any of the book's heroes.
I must admit that I was very much surprised how much I liked this book. It almost made me want to rush out a rent a few Ronald Reagan movies. Instead, I merely rented High Noon
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