The Original 1982 imagines what might have been if its protagonist, a singer-songwriter-waitress named Lisa, had decided not to terminate an inconvenient pregnancy 31 years ago.
Lori Carson, the former lead singer of ’90s experimental band The Golden Palominos, hooks you with nostalgic references to bygone music venues like Folk City, the West Village club that launched the careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and so many others in the early ’60s. But she keeps you reading to find out how Lisa will resolve her on-again, off-again love affair with a famous musician named Gabriel Luna.
If Lisa resembles Lori — a gifted composer who wrote the folk-rock soundtracks for the movies Strange Days (1995) and Stealing Beauty (1996) — the resemblance is purely intentional. And if Gabriel seems like a dead ringer for actor/musician Rubén Blades, well, that too is drawn from Carson’s real life.
Lisa misses Gabriel, but she yearns even more achingly for the child they almost had together. In Carson’s imaginary scenario, that child, Minnow, grows up to experience teen dilemmas so anguished (an absentee father, a sexual-orientation crisis) you may feel like you’re reading your daughter’s diary. By the time Carson’s characters reach 2010, both Lisa and Gabriel have moved on, but they’ll never forget their bond.
The second novel in which a midlife woman travels back in time is The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Unlike Lisa’s, Greta’s time-trippin’ ain’t voluntary: It’s triggered by the electro-convulsive therapy she endures for depression. Greta is transported back to 1918, 1941, and 1995. In each of those alternative lives, she discovers that she has the ability to choose actions that will affect her other selves.
I don’t want to give away too much of Greta’s story, so you’ll have to take it on faith that The Impossible Lives superbly explores some fairly heady issues: history repeating itself, the human capacity for sorrow, our evolving notions of selfhood. Look at it this way: How many novelists can compare the flu epidemic of 1918 and the AIDS epidemic of the late 20th century without indulging in hyperbole?
Which era would you time-travel to visit?
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