Joyce Carol Oates’ Hazards of Time Travel

Joyce Carol Oates, Hazards of Time Travel (4th Estate 2018)

Maybe I’m being harsh, but this strikes me as an example of a literary novelist deciding to write science fiction in the spirit of someone slumming it. It’s a dystopian novel in which the world building is fairly slapdash and awfully familiar even to someone like me who doesn’t read a lot  of dystopian fiction. It has a number of twists that don’t really turn. The timing, especially in the final pages where there is a faux happy ending (or is it?), just doesn’t work.

Having said that, I think there is a serious argument that J F Skinner’s psychological theories are useful in understanding the creeping totalitarianism of our times: a young woman who asks questions (not too many questions, but questions at all) in the repressive future is exiled to a rural university in the US in the 1950s where Skinner’s theories are seen as cutting edge, and … oh I don’t care.

I haven’t read anything else by Joyce Carol Oates, so I may be missing something. Edward Said’s On Late Style warned that contemporaries dismissed the work of any number of great artists as they moved into the apparent carelessness of their late style. Perhaps that’s what is happening here. I’m open to argument

3 responses to “Joyce Carol Oates’ Hazards of Time Travel

  1. Pingback: Jeff Lemire and others’ Black Hammer | Me fail? I fly!

  2. My first Oates novel as well, and I don’t think I’ll be reading any others. I don’t know anyone else who’s read it, and I can’t recommend it to anyone, but I want to discuss something. Did you have trouble with the narrative being told as first-person past tense through most of the book and then at the end of the story the MC can’t remember that part of her life? How was the story narrated? In my overarching low opinion of the book, this is probably nitpicking, but it’s something I keep coming back to as the ONE thing that really bugs me.


  3. Thanks for commenting, Jeff. You’ve pinpointed one of the things that contributed to my aversion to the book, part of what I think of as the ‘slumming’ effect.


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