Title: Bid Time Return
Author: Richard Matheson
Publisher: Viking Press (1975)
Note: This title was also released in 1998 by Tor Books under the title Somewhere In Time
Note2: I thought the original title was far superior and can't figure why it was changed.
Michael; genius, movie reviewer extraordinaire, and all-around fantastic human; and I are sticking with sci-fi again this month but our chosen title is markedly different from the last two pairings we’ve done. I saw this movie many years ago and have read the book for the first time just this month. Click the link below for movie thoughts and read on for bookie stuff.
O Call back yesterday,
Bid time return
-Richard II, Act III, Sc.2
After this quote the book starts with a note from the brother of the protagonist. Amongst other things he says, “Yielding to the publisher, I’ve done extensive pruning in the first section of the manuscript. Again, I’m not sure I’ve done the right thing. I can’t dispute the fact that this section was lengthy and occasionally tedious.”
When I first started reading, the book reminded me of how I felt when watching the movie Buried: what a great idea, I’m glad someone thought of it and pursued it, it’s a shame it’s not the type of thing that keeps my attention. But then, as I progressed through Bid Time Return, I kept coming back to “lengthy and occasionally tedious.” It’s not only an apt description of the beginning, it pretty much describes the entire book.
In 1971 Richard Collier is 36 and receives some news that makes him re-evaluate his entire life and what he will do with the rest of it. Deciding to pursue a personal journey across the US (not even telling his brother where he is going), he flips a coin and makes San Diego his first destination. He had intended to stay only a few days but seeing the portrait of a beautiful actress who performed at his hotel in 1896 changes his plans completely. He is haunted by her face and his attraction to her. He becomes consumed with researching her life and the more he learns about her the more convinced he becomes that he was a part of that life. He expands his research to time travel (as you do) by reading, and obsessing over, a book he finds called Man and Time by J.B. Priestley (his brother kindly inserts a bit of info to let us know he edited out the detailed notes Richard took on the book).
**The rest of this review includes SPOILERS**
Richard’s style begins as one of dictatorial lists of his activities and feelings (with a bit more naval-gazing than I can tolerate in books but he did just learn that he is going to die soon so I should probably forgive him that). I actually enjoyed the point by point movement through his days. It’s easy to read over even if it’s not necessarily compelling in a narrative sense. As he moves closer, in emotion and in time, to Elise McKenna the style changes to traditional story-telling (Richard, being a writer, even comments on his own style changes). Of course, by the time that happens I’d mostly lost interest in the story and was spending my time wondering why. You see, even though I described this as sci-fi it’s pretty much straight up Romance (with one exception that I’ll go into later). This is not a problem for me as I like and read Romance. However, I like and read Romances that are much better than this one. Honestly, I wondered at one point if the entire book was a joke poking fun at Romance. It would have been such a poorly executed joke, though, that I had to assume I was meant to take the story seriously. So, why am I such a hater? It came down to the fact that the characters had no personal agency.
The book almost has only the one character because Richard dominates so much of the story (naturally, it is his story, after all) but Elise certainly ought to get a lot of attention from the reader. The thing is, neither of the characters is that interesting. Richard’s motivation: saw pic of hottie actress and immediately fell in love with her. Elise’s motivation: was given two predictions regarding a man in her future and decides Richard fits those predictions. Whenever either of them talks about why they want to be with the other it’s always described as this “need” or as being “mysterious.” How is that interesting? It doesn’t even seem to have anything to do with who these two people actually are (at one point Richard expresses fucking surprise when it turns out Elise has a bunch of really great qualities that have nothing to do with her beauty or charisma). This is not the kind of Romance that can keep my interest. Mysterious needs and unexplained attraction do not feel like the elements of a meaningful relationship. But, hey, once they met maybe they had wonderful experiences together over a period of time that would make motivations less mysterious. Oh, woops, they spend about 36 hours together and have some of the most painfully awkward conversations I’ve ever had the displeasure to read (I kept thinking, this guy is a writer and this is the best he can come up with?????). It’s not exactly the sort of thing that would make a reader believe the two of them would like to spend their lives together.
Richard is also so agitated and desperate in his need to be with Elise that he professes his love enough to make anyone wonder what his deal is (psycho being the first answer any normal person would come up with) and he’s constantly evasive about where he’s from (or should I say when). In short, he behaves in such a way that any rational woman would ask him to leave her alone. But, of course, Elise is experiencing her Mysterious Pull for Richard so she only expresses dismay at the complete reversal of her normal behavior (if only she had known about Mighty Wang and Magic Hoo Hoos she might not have been so dismayed).
The one exception to this being a true Romance is that it doesn’t have a happy ending. By the time the end came around its unhappiness had little effect on me because I didn’t care about the characters. I was tired of Richard’s Too Stupid Too Live moments and Elise’s willingness to make a life commitment to someone she doesn’t even know. A Romance that centers around two people who have no choice in the matter and then are pulled apart by circumstance is not interesting. It’s easy - and possibly able to engage your emotions (though, in this case, definitely not mine) - but it’s not compelling. There is no journey to go through with the characters, no hard choices to be made, no reason to care for anything other than that it’s too bad this had to happen because now everyone is sad.
But this does give me a chance to say that I can recommend several great Romances for anyone who has read this and thought, “There must be something better out there.” There certainly is and I’m happy to share. I can recommend Romances with well-developed characters who actively make choices, sometimes very difficult choices, for themselves and for the people in their lives, Romances with characters who converse in ways that make you believe they’d actually want to have multiple conversations, Romances that show two people growing together over time and learning that they can be as strong, or stronger, together than apart.
rating: 2 of 5 stars
Click here for an index of the joint post series
Click here for an index of the joint post series