by Bob Smith
Published by University of Wisconsin Press
Published June 9, 2011.
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
March 2, 2018.
To read his second one, Remembrance of Things I Forgot, I had to overcome my strong aversion to time-travel fiction. There are flashes of wit in it, though Smith’s alter ego, John Sherkston, is a dealer in vintage comic books rather than a stand-up comedian (as the Smith character was in S&P).
I barely made it through the first part, not because of sci-fi elements, but because it revived the rightly vilified memory of Vice President Dick Cheney, who turns out to be central to the plot, in particular to the time traveler’s attempt to block a political career for George W. Bush back when he was a failing businessman in Midlands, Texas and Cheney was the lone Wyoming representative in the U.S. Congress.
In general, there is little about the mechanics of the time machine, perfected by John’s longterm and increasingly conservative lover, Taylor Esgard. John did not know Taylor was working on the project until it was completed.
Though trying to save the world from a George W. Bush presidency, John’s primary goal is to prevent the suicide of his beloved sister, Carol. (The suicide of a much-loved sister was a major regret of Smith’s, transferred to John Sherkston.) With foreknowledge (ca. 1986), he also hoped to prevent his father’s descent into alcoholism. His family members find it very had to believe that John, accompanied by the horny 1986 version of his self, is who he says he is: son/brother from the future.
Smith writes persuasively about the family dysfunctions and feelings of his self at two times, and his sister, mother, and father in 1986. The 2006 and 1986 Cheneys are fairly convincing, too. I was less convinced by the portrait of his studly nerd lover (Taylor), mostly appearing in his 1986 incarnation, before going over to the dark side (Cheney).
What drags down the middle of the novel for me more than imagination of time travel is the extended denunciations by the 2006 John of Bush and Cheney. I totally agree with them, but this strikes me as “preaching to the choir”—I don’t think Smith’s fanbase included many admirers of Dick Cheney. For me, there is also too much about pricey vintage comic books.
Like Smith generally, his second novel is upbeat. The reader already knows that aborting W’s rise to the White House fails, though how and why John’s attempt fails is unexpected and amusing in dark ways.
©2018, Stephen O. Murray