We all travel in time, from one moment to the next. Most of us stick
to the straight and narrow, to the tried and true, before followed
by after by which moment we're back in the now. When we read, however,
time shifts. It moves not to our expectations but to the needs of
the story. All writers play at time travel, taking us to moments
out of sequence and readers do as well; interrupting the sequence
of the novel we're reading to stop ponder the past of the novel,
or to attempt to prise out what the future of the novel holds.
'Thee Days To Never' puts time travel in the foreground. But Tim Powers
is up to a lot more than the usual who's-your-Daddy? switcheroo. 'Three
Days to Never' is a complex and poignant look at regret, at stagnation,
at the terrible stultifying power of the suburbs. Powers provides all
the pleasures that literature has to offer, from the high-concept hi-jinks
of technology spun sideways to the potent feel of a father-daughter relationship
sinking in despair. One moment, you're following some slyly researched
spycraft as members from the Mossad division dedicated to pursuing supernatural
menaces weaves down a Southern California freeway and the next you've
locked in a downward spiral of alcoholic despair and suburban angst.
But no matter, no matter when, no matter how or why, Powers has a knack
for taking you on a complex hopscotch journey through time yet never
misses a character moment or a critical beat of the heart.
'Three Days to Never' begins as Frank Marrity and his daughter Daphne
go to Frank's grandmother's house to find something in the garage. What
unfolds involves no less than Albert Einstein, a lost weapon from the
atomic age, supernatural spies, critters that live in aether beyond life
and time, the dead, the living, and everything in between. This is in
part a time travel story, but there's a lot more going on than simple
hopping about the timeline. Powers uses his cleverly conceived Maguffins
to evoke the dark madness that erodes the edges of the American Dream.
Those edges are lovingly, gorgeously described even when Powers has readers
gazing at a trash-strewn side street in a no-name town on the way down
the toilet. Powers has long been a chronicler of the America's suburban
dreams and nightmares, and 'Three Days to Never' offers some of his strongest
landscapes yet. Nobody has ever nailed to such a degree those ratty houses,
the cruddy living rooms and the dank, weed-chocked yards with the combination
of love and precision that Powers brings to bear. This is America as
it is, a cut-and-pasted crapshoot of the glorious and grotesque. 'Three
Days to Never' is a powerful look at Southern California and an extrapolation
of how that landscape affects the psyches of those who inhabit it.
The characters who creep, crawl, stumble and run down these hopeless
avenues are a wildly diverse bunch. Powers' characters may live in Southern
California, but he's smart enough to draw them from around the globe.
Israeli agents in charge of keeping the supernatural under control endure
a baptism of fire at an archaeological site in the desert. Albert Einstein,
Charlie Chaplin, and William Shakespeare strut the stage. Powers knows
the precise details that will impart each character with the maximum
of power. He's known for loving the research he puts into each novel
and that love shows up in the minutia that brings his characters to life
in our minds.
When you travel in time, whether through the usual literary method of
a memory recounted in stillness or through more esoteric methods that
involve loops of gold wire, Einstein's daughter, a lost Josef von Sternberg
film or a mummified head in the cabinet of a an RV hurtling down the
San Bernardino freeway you need some serious literary skills to keep
the reader in touch with the baseline of your story. Powers' excellent,
moving characters, filled with regret do this and yet keep our pulses
pounding and our imaginations afire. Powers is a writer with the skills
to weave his disparate threads into a glorious, resonant tapestry. He's
able to create a mystery, complicate that mystery and then reveal what
lies at the heart while preserving the joy of anticipation. It’s
a balancing act that few writers can pull off.
Readers are more willing than most to accede to the pleasures of time
travel, since the act of reading itself involves setting aside our perceptions
of temporal flow around us in favor of those within the narrative. Powers
knows this and uses it to his advantage in 'Three Days to Never'. Narrative
time travel and time travel within the narrative are the warp and woof
of a literate, skillfully executed novel that enable Powers to show us
not just who we are, but how we come to our character, who we might have
been, and what we might still become.