by Ken Grimwood


ISBN: 0-688-16112-X

313pp/January 1987

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The basic premise behind Ken Grimwood’s novel Replay is very familiar. Since Grimwood’s novel was published, the idea has been used in such places as Richard Lupoff’s short story "12:01" and the Harold Ramis film "Groundhog Day." In the novel, the main character, Jeff Winston, dies on October 18, 1988 and immediately finds himself alive and well in his own lifetime, but in 1963. Throughout the novel, Winston continuously lives this twenty-five year period, discovering how much change he can initiate and trying to determine the meaning and cause behind his strange existence.

Winston’s character attempts many of the obvious things, setting himself up to be wealthy, trying to stop Kennedy’s assassination, and so forth, as he lives through history time and again. Eventually, he stops looking to the world in his attempts to vindicate his period as a replayer and, instead, tries to answer his own questions and address his own happiness.

Despite his years and decades of experience, Jeff Winston, the replayer, frequently misreads situations and individuals. He makes mistakes about the way people would perceive him, scaring off his first-life wife by coming on too strong, trying to re-establish a relationship with a fourteen-year-old girl without thinking about how it would look to her family, and similar situations. Although the reader can see these as the mistakes they are, Grimwood writes the scenes carefully enough that the mistakes add to the realism of Winston’s character.

Eventually, Winston manages to find other people doomed to relive the same period he does. Their perceptions of the reason they have been blessed, or cursed, with this gift vary, and they attempt to come to a consensus of why they are caught in a loop, what they should attempt to achieve and how to achieve those ends. Although this search includes a few red herrings, Grimwood presents their curiosity and reactions in a realistic manner.

Although Grimwood’s story is well-written, it is not entirely satisfactory. He brings little that is original to the very human fantasy of being able to live one’s life over again, and although he raises many philosophical issues, his characters, in the end, almost seem to take the easy way out, declaring, in a sense, that "there is no place like home," when they’ve demonstrated, through multiple lives, that they can experience possibilities which are better than the ones in which they ultimately find themselves.

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