cover image The Lost Time Accidents

The Lost Time Accidents

John Wray. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (512p) ISBN 978-0-374-28113-7

Wray (Lowboy) delivers a science fiction family epic, the story of the once-illustrious Tollivers—and their ongoing search for the secret of time—as related by Waldy Tolliver, the family’s lovesick heir. Chapters detailing Waldy’s affair with the mysterious “Mrs. Haven” alternate with the lengthy genealogy he composes for her and for posterity, after finding himself trapped in a room where the concepts of present, past, and future have no meaning. He begins with Kaspar and Waldemar (both Tollivers), who follow in the footsteps of their pseudoscientist father, Ottokar, in prewar Vienna, trying to do experiments with time that are inspired by Einstein, while hobnobbing with Gustav Klimt and Karl Wittgenstein. But the brothers are parted when Waldemar’s theories lead him to participate in the Nazis’ hideous experiments and Kaspar emigrates with his family to New York. There, his son, Orson, grows up to become a West Village science fiction writer, while his child-prodigy daughter, Enzian, pursues physics. Both children wind up in the United Church of Synchronology, a sect devoted to exploiting the discoveries of Waldemar, with major repercussions for both Mrs. Haven and Waldy, the latter of whom will have to reckon not only with Waldemar’s legacy but with another refugee from the time streams: Waldemar himself. This novel is clearly a work of great labor, and it shows; Wray’s ambition and attention to plotting is praiseworthy, but the structure can be exhausting, and there are instances of quirk standing in for characterization. Nevertheless, readers looking for a fully realized blend of science and history will find a deep world to dive into. (Feb.)