Hazards of Time Travel

Hazards of Time Travel, a dystopian novel from the prolific Joyce Carol Oates, imagines a near-future world dictated by a repressive government that carefully monitors intellectuals and categorizes people based on their skin tones. Adriane is meant to graduate as valedictorian from her high school but is arrested for presenting a graduation speech that asks too many questions of their government. As punishment, she is sentenced to re-education and sent back to 1959, to attend college at a small midwestern school. There, as she falls in love with a fellow exiled professor and copes with the impeccably mannered women who populate the college, Adriane learns that her home era is not the only period of oppressive regimes.

The parallels between Adriane's world in 2039 and the divisive atmosphere today may be clear, but Oates's imagining of a time travel-based re-education program is both original and engaging. Always a master of producing discomfort and paranoia, Oates creates an intensely eerie atmosphere with her inclusion of sections from the perspective of the other girls at Wainscotia State University. Their voices declare, "We believed in helping one another. We believed in smiling-through-tears," and form a chorus of bodiless eyes that follow Adriane in judgment. While at first glance the world of 1959 seems to be a relief from Adriane's world (which vaporizes classmates in front of each other), Oates leads the reader down a rabbit hole of nauseating and grotesque Americana, illuminating the terror of nostalgia. By the novel's unsettlingly ambiguous ending, the reader will be horrified and invigorated to realize the nightmare hasn't ended. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

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