The Bottom Line: ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ By John Wray

When Orson Card Tolliver — one of many funny, pitiable characters in John Wray’s ambitious new novel — tries to write a book that’s devoid of time-related descriptors, all he’s able to churn out is smut. Three-boobed aliens and variations on intergalactic desire populate his popular sci-fi books, which go on to inspire a cultish religion devoted to the subjectivity of time. Influential though his prose might be, it’s not exactly artistic, or even palatable in the mind of his son Waldy, the narrator of The Lost Time Accidents.

By contrast, Wray’s novel, which begins in Vienna’s swinging salon days and ripples out to envelop the present, explicitly addresses the nature of time and how its passing can impact collective memory, familial relationships and nostalgia for lost loved ones. It’s a lot of ground to cover in a single book, 500-pages or otherwise, but Wray’s effort is commendable, and enjoyable to boot.

At the story’s center is Waldy, who’s mysteriously woken up to find himself “excused from time.” Without knowing why, he’s been banished indefinitely to an existence where the clocks don’t move, but the setting is familiar: he’s stuck comfortably in his aunts’ musty library, where he reckons it’s time (or, you know, not time) to write down his family’s cursed history, for the sake of his own well-being, but also to explain his circumstances to the object of his affection, Mrs. Haven, who the story is addressed to.

With a style that’s suitably unsuited to his period, Waldy begins by stiffly recounting what he knows about his oldest relative, his great-grandfather Ottokar Gottfriendens Toula, a pickler and a physicist who, just before dying in a car accident, wrote in his diary that he’d made an unprecedented discovery about the nature of time.

On recovering his writings — senseless —> Read More