I imagine this is a very common fantasy: you wake up in high school or at the beginning of college. You know everything you know now – you have your adult wisdom and confidence, plus you know details about the future that can help you avoid disaster and make some very wise investments – and you can apply it all to living a better, more successful life. I’m a pretty happy guy, but I think we all have things in our youth that we’d like to do over. Despite the universality of this feeling, I can’t think of any other works of fiction that tackle this idea. But, Grimwood does it quite brilliantly in Replay, so who needs ‘em?
In 1988, at the age of 43, Jeff Winston dies of a heart attack. He wakes up minutes later a freshman in college in 1963 with all the memories of the life he just lived and lost. Once he overcomes his initial confusion, he strikes it rich via sports gambling and builds a financial empire. Over the next twenty-five years, he amasses great wealth and starts a different family. Then, in 1988, he dies and wakes up in college yet again.
None of Jeff’s various lives are that surprising. He explores different avenues from getting rich, to finding love with a college girlfriend, to living a life of reading and quiet contemplation on a secluded ranch. Grimwood does throw in a few interesting twists that do add some suspense. I won’t give anything away, but every time the premise felt like it might be starting to feel worn, Grimwood added a new element to keep me intrigued. He also quite comprehensively covers the implications of the replays, including the financial, romantic, artistic, and philosophical.
I really enjoyed this novel. Grimwood starts with an intriguing idea, but he doesn’t lose sight of character. Jeff is compelling and sympathetic, and his adventures and musings on his odd situation are unlikely page-turners.