Replay is a science-fiction novel in which the main character, Jeff Winston, dies in 1988 and awakens back in 1963 in his 18-year-old body, where he begins to relive his life. This happens repeatedly. Every time he dies in 1988, but the time he can relive gets shorter and shorter with each replay.
Replay reminded me of the film Groundhog Day, as both are based on the concept of a time loop. I liked the book, and I think it describes accurately what people would do if they could relive their life. It's also good that the author doesn't try to explain why those replays happen. The transitions from one replay to the next were sometimes a bit too abrupt...
Quotes from the book
Jeff couldn't breathe. Of course he couldn't breathe; he was dead. But if he was dead, why was he aware of not being able to breathe? Or of anything, for that matter?
So he hadn't died. Somehow, the realization didn't thrill him, just as his earlier assumption of death had failed to strike him with dread. Maybe he had secretly welcomed the end of his life. Now it would merely continue as before: the dissatisfaction, the grinding loss of ambition and hope that had either caused or been caused by the failure of his marriage, he couldn't remember which anymore.
Jeff looked at his long-dead friend in stunned silence: the thick black hair that had not yet begun to recede, the unlined face, the bright, adolescent eyes that had seen no pain, to speak of.
There were a thousand things he wanted to say to Martin, but none of them would have made any more sense than this insane situation itself.
He could no longer deny what had happened, couldn't hope to rationalize it away. He had been dying of a heart attack, but had survived; he had been in his office, in 1988, and now was ... here. Atlanta, 1963.
If Jeff were still in this inexplicably reconstructed past when that June day rolled around again, would he make the same trip, share the same jokes with Martin, throw those same ripe peaches at the same road signs? And if he didn't, if he chose to stay in Atlanta that week, or if he simply drove past the girl with the legs and the peaches ... then what of his memory of that episode? Where had it come from, and what would happen to it?
Did he really have to worry about paradoxes, the old killing-your-own-grandfather idea? That might not be an appropriate concern at all. He wasn't an outsider wandering around in this time, afraid of encountering himself at an earlier age; he actually was that younger self, part and parcel of the fabric of this world. Only his mind was of the future – and the future existed only in his mind.
So what the hell was he going to do now, just play along? Indulge in more heavy petting sessions with a dewy little blonde from another time who'd never heard of the pill? Go back to classes and adolescent bull sessions and spring dances as if they were all new to him? Memorize statistical tables he'd long since forgotten and had never found any use for, so he could pass Sociology 101? Maybe he didn't have any goddamned choice, not if this phenomenal, grotesque switch in time turned out to be permanent. Maybe he really would have to go through it, all of it, again – year after painful, predictable year.
He was eighteen years old, and he knew everything of consequence that was going to happen in the world for the next two decades.
He had tried to use his prescience to reshape destiny in a positive way, something far surpassing the triviality of his wagers, his investment schemes – and his efforts had created no more than a minor ripple in the stream of history. A killer's name had been changed, no more. What, he wondered, did that bode for his own future? All the hopes he had of rebuilding his life with the advantage of foreknowledge ... were they doomed to be mere superficial changes, quantitative but not qualitative? Would his attempts at achieving genuine happiness be as inexplicably thwarted as his intervention in the Kennedy affair?
She had no way of knowing he already knew everything about her, more – at this point in her life – than she knew about herself.
He'd been given the chance to relive most of his life; now he'd trade it all for another shot at this one day.
Everything he'd accomplished had been erased: his financial empire, the home in Dutchess County ... but most devastating of all, he had lost his child. Gretchen, with her gangly almost-woman manner and her intelligent, loving eyes, had been rendered nonexistent. Dead, or worse. In this reality she had simply never been.
[...] the hardest part had been contriving not to get rich. The last time he'd been this age he'd been a financial wunderkind, the major partner in a powerful conglomerate. Such a sudden infusion of massive wealth would have thrown Judy off balance, would have created significant problems between them. So he'd passed up the Belmont and World Series bets entirely, and had painstakingly avoided the many high-yield investments with which he could easily have made another multimillion-dollar fortune.
Five days a week he put on a suit and tie, drove downtown, bid his secretary and associates good morning, locked himself in his office, and read. Sophocles, Shakespeare, Proust, Faulkner ... all the works he'd meant to absorb before but had never had the time to read.
Never again would he give life to a human being, as he had to Gretchen, only to see her entire existence negated. To everyone but Jeff, she did not even live in memory; and on the unthinkable chance that he might be doomed to repeat his life yet again, he refused to leave in that sort of absolute limbo someone he'd not only loved, but had created.
Only two years into this wasted replay, he thought with dread; would he return from a death so early, so violent? For all he'd cursed his repeated lives, he desperately wished now for life to continue.
"This whole experience has made me agree even more with Camus: If there is a God, I despise him."
"Our dilemma, extraordinary though it is, is essentially no different than that faced by everyone who's ever walked this earth: We're here, and we don't know why. We can philosophize all we want, pursue the key to that secret along a thousand different paths, and we'll never be any closer to unlocking it."
"All life includes loss. It's taken me many, many years to learn to deal with that, and I don't expect I'll ever be fully resigned to it. But that doesn't mean we have to turn away from the world, or stop striving for the best that we can do and be. We owe that much to ourselves, at least, and we deserve whatever measure of good may come of it."
It was their favorite topic this month: what the experience of replaying would have been like for someone in another historical period, how best to have dealt with a vastly different set of repeated world events and circumstances than those they knew so well.
What would he do with that future now, he wondered, with the long and empty years he faced, again alone? It had been over a year since he'd begun this fourth replay of his life, and all the hopefulness with which he had once anticipated sharing this cycle with someone he fully loved, someone whose experience and understanding matched his own, had disappeared. Pamela remained an unfamiliar child, ignorant of who and what she – they – had previously been.
They were both aware of the comic irony in this ceremony: She, a woman who had been a practicing physician, a successful artist, and a celebrated motion-picture producer, was at last being awarded her high-school diploma. For the third time.
"I got so used to the endless possibilities, the time ... never being bound by our mistakes, always knowing we could go back and change things, make them better. But we didn't, did we? We only made things different."
He'd done what he could to reassure her, to ease the grief and terror of her final days, but she'd been right: For all that they had struggled, all they'd once achieved, the end result was null. Even the happiness they had managed to find together had been frustratingly brief; a few years stolen here and there, transient moments of love and contentment like vanishing specks of foam in a sea of lonely, needless separation.
It had seemed as if they would have forever, an infinity of choices and second chances. They had squandered far too much of the priceless time that had been granted them, wasted it on bitterness and guilt and futile quests for nonexistent answers – when they themselves, their love for each other, had been all the answer either of them should have ever needed. Now even the opportunity to tell her that, to hold her in his arms and let her know how much he had revered and cherished her, was eternally denied him. Pamela was dead, and in three years' time Jeff, too, would die, never knowing why he'd lived.
There was nothing he could say; it would be the height of cruelty to tell her what he knew: That this was the last day they would ever see each other. This coming Tuesday, five days from now, the world would cease forever for both of them.
Each lifetime had been different, as each choice is always different, unpredictable in its outcome or effect. Yet those choices had to be made, Jeff thought. He'd learned to accept the potential losses, in the hope that they would be outweighed by the gains. The only certain failure, he knew, and the most grievous, would be never to risk at all.
The only thing that mattered was that the quarter century or so he had remaining would be his life, to live out as he chose and in his own best interests. Nothing took precedence over that: not work, not friendships, not relationships with women. Those were all components of his life, and valuable ones, but they did not define it or control it. That was up to him, and him alone. The possibilities, Jeff knew, were endless.