The Lost Time Accidents

Written by John Wray
Review by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Taken together, John Wray’s first three novels clearly demonstrate his facility in representing a broad, eclectic range of subjects, time periods, and characters; thus, this novel should come as no real surprise, but it does. Defying easy categorization, the book weaves elements of science, science fiction, history, pop culture, and religion to produce a funny, mordant, thoughtful, and thought-provoking exegesis on the nature of time.

Waldemar Tolliver is both the hapless victim and natural product of his notorious family’s history. When his great-grandfather, pickle baron and amateur physicist Ottokar Toula, dies just hours after making the stunning but ill-documented discovery that it’s possible to move freely within the dimension of time, Ottokar’s descendants are trapped in lifetimes of attempting to unlock those lost secrets. Waldy’s family, certain it has the inside track on the right answer, dismisses Einstein as “The Patent Clerk.” “The belief that every physicist since Newton has been a fraud or a sucker (or both) is our family dogma, passed from generation to generation like a vendetta or an allergy to nuts.”

The details unwrap themselves slowly as we read over Waldy’s shoulder while he pens his family’s sordid history for the faithless woman he loves, Mrs. Haven. He writes from inside the depths of his late aunts’ huge, stuffed-to-the-rafters New York apartment where, incidentally, he finds himself entirely outside the stream of time. How he came to be there, how he is named after his great-uncle the war criminal, how his father’s bad science fiction writing is responsible for the founding of a cult (Wray doesn’t bother to hide that he’s describing Scientology), and how his thoroughly eccentric aunts may have finally solved the puzzle are all eventually revealed in this story that, like a black hole, winds ever tighter around its core.