They will have a September wedding, so their anniversary doesn’t change.
They will have a baby, a girl with curly hair, kicking her chunky legs.
They will live in a house with yellow walls and wooden floors and light.
In another universe, this timeline becomes actual.
In their universe, the vial breaks, the virus spreads, the borders are closed.
Frank gets sick.
Welcome to my stop on the An Ocean of Minutes blog tour! I first caught sight of this beautiful cover on Twitter a few months back, and after reading the teaser above I was instantly gripped and dying to get my hands on this book, so thanks very much to Ana at Quercus for sending me a copy and having me on the tour.
In 1981, Polly says goodbye to her boyfriend Frank at Houston Intercontinental Airport. She agrees to travel forward in time to 1993 to work a term of 32 months for a company called TimeRaiser in exchange for life-saving treatment for Frank, who is the victim of a global flu pandemic that has marooned them in Texas during a vacation. They make what they think to be watertight plans to meet in the future – 12 years’ time for Frank but mere hours for Polly. However, Polly is rerouted to 1998, where Frank is nowhere to be found and their temporary home of Galveston is unrecognisable.
In this timeline, post-pandemic, the United States and America have become two separate countries. The northern States close their borders and, though not unscathed, largely retain their economy and way of life. America, by contrast, loses 93% of its population and becomes the bleak and forbidding home of journeymen – bonded labourers, many of whom are immigrants – who are put to work rebuilding and sustaining an unlikely vacation spot for those with the money and apathy to ignore the reality outside their resorts. This is the world Polly finds herself in, stripped of her citizenship, unable to find Frank, and faced at every turn with an evasive, unhelpful, and at times downright callous bureaucracy. It’s hard not to draw parallels with the migrant experience today as several characters refer to being separated from their families and struggling, sometimes for years, to find answers even as to their whereabouts.
How to share my feelings about this book without revealing too much of the plot, or Polly’s fate? It’s safe to say I was completely invested in her journey, my heart inflating and sinking with every twist and every act of kindness and cruelty she experiences. I loved how the story moved back and forth in time to show Polly and Frank’s relationship in all its ups and downs, giving the reader a really great sense of them both as individuals and as a couple. I became so attached to them and was tense with anxiety about whether or not they would be reunited, and Thea Lim tells their story in language that is emotive, cinematic and utterly gorgeous.
I would recommend this book to fans of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, Black Mirror (especially the episode ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ – you’ll see why) and, though I have to say An Ocean of Minutes is far superior in its execution, its characters and their relationship, fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife will love this too. I have already passed it into the safe hands of my best friend to read – a sure sign of a winner.
About the author
Thea Lim’s writing has been published by the Southampton Review, the Guardian, Salon, the Millions, Bitch Magazine and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists’ grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.
She grew up in Singapore and lives in Toronto with her family.