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Literature / Replay

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A 1986 novel by Ken Grimwood.

Jeff Winston is 43 and stuck in a loveless marriage and dead end job. At 1:06pm on October 18, 1988, he has a sudden, fatal heart attack and the next moment finds himself 18 in his college dorm room in May of 1963. He makes a killer bet on who he already knows will win the Kentucky Derby and uses his winnings and knowledge of the future to create a Fortune 500 company. By the time he gets back to 1988 he is wealthy and powerful... and on October 18, 1988 he suffers another fatal heart attack, waking up in 1963 again.

Yep, he's stuck in a 25 year "Groundhog Day" Loop. Each time he loops back though, he's a little further along his original timeline. He meets Pamela, a woman who is also stuck in the loop. Together they find some stability in their lives and seek out others who may be looping themselves. What's going to happen when Jeff's loop back point and the day in 1988 eventually meet?

Tropes Present in this work:

  • All for Nothing: All the good Jeff does - like making sure Martin doesn't commit suicide in his first replay - is undone at the end of the book when the original timeline reasserts itself.
  • Alternate History: Given the length of time this character loops, each "replay" is one of these by differing degrees. Some of the replays effect wider history as opposed to no more than the replayers' personal histories. Others change things on a global scale.
    • In the first replay, Jeff writes a threatening letter to JFK in Lee Harvey Oswald's name the week before the assassination and Oswald is arrested by the FBI. JFK is instead assassinated by Nelson Bennett.
    • A more minor one. In the second replay, Pamela is married to Dustin Hoffman from 1969 to 1975.
    • Jeff and Pamela decided to go public about their experiences during the fifth replay (in 1969). Initially, they were able to bring about positive changes by preventing man-made disasters and reducing the death tolls of natural disasters. When a secretive government agency forced them to reveal the shape of things to come, history began to change significantly. In November 1969, Colonel Gaddafi was assassinated, by the US government in spite of Agent Russell Hedges' protests to the contrary. In response, a terrorist organisation calling itself the November Squad, led by Gaddafi's younger brother, began a campaign of attacks against the US and American troops in the Middle East. Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. After the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, President Reagan sent troops to Iran in an attempt to keep the Shah in power, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. Shortly afterwards, the November Squad bombed Madison Square Garden. The death toll was estimated at 682. The invasion of Iran inflamed tensions between the US and the Soviet Union and border skirmishes between the superpowers became common. In 1985, the November Squad was responsible for the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge and a massacre at the United Nations Building in New York City. These attacks led to the declaration of martial law in the United States. The 1988 presidential election was postponed indefinitely due to the recently introduced restrictions on mass public gatherings with the US government essentially being run by the directors of the CIA, FBI and NSA as a troika. As such, the United States was well on its way to becoming a fascist state. By this time that the replay ended on October 18, 1988, the US and the Soviet Union had managed to avoid nuclear war but Jeff believed that it may only be a matter of time.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: One of a darker variety.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Jeff's daughter from his first replay, who he can never get back.
  • Different World, Different Movies:
    • Starsea in the third replay.
    • Pamela's follow-up film Continuum in the same replay. While Starsea is critically acclaimed and one of the most successful films ever made, Continuum is a financial flop which is completely savaged by critics.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jeff's college roommate, Martin, committed suicide in the original timeline.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: Jeff becomes a billionaire his first replay, but on subsequent runs tries to simply make enough to be comfortable and not draw attention to himself.
  • Foreshadowing: A different shooter kills JFK after Jeff's intervention, foreshadowing the quasi-government agency that hold Jeff and Pamela prisoner a few replays later, trying to extract information from them.
  • Free-Love Future: Jeff's girlfriend in 1963 wants to help him get off but remain a Technical Virgin. She is horribly offended when he suggests having sex and asks to be driven home. Jeff muses to himself that things are a little more loose in the "future" time of the 1980s. Yet during a different replay when he has a lot of sex and experiments with drugs he muses to himself that the future of the 1980s has AIDS.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: Invoked in-universe in an art exhibit Pamela made for public viewing but knew only Jeff would understand.
    "I did it for you. For us. No one else can understand it; you'd be amused at the interpretations some of the critics have come up with."
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: A particularly long one of 25 years. Notable that this book came out 8 years before Groundhog Day came out.
  • Here We Go Again!: A different, completely unrelated character in the epilogue wakes up in 1988, having just had a heart attack in 2017.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Jeff tries to save JFK by getting Lee Harvey Oswald on the Secret Service's radar. JFK is assassinated anyway.
  • It's a Small World, After All: Averted. There are relatively few replayers, and they only notice each other when one of them affects the timeline once - producing the movie Starsea.
  • Last Stand: For one replay, Jeff orders a staff of doctors and medical equipment to stand by to stop the heart attack that sends him back every October 18, 1988. The doctors are confused that an otherwise healthy man is so worried - but the heart attack hits all the same and despite the doctor's efforts he's sent back again.
  • The Mad Hatter: Stuart is a replayer like the others, but he believes aliens are doing it and that is his excuse for murdering people.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: One replay Jeff and Pamela think they are improving things by going public. They don't, big time.
  • Mental Time Travel: The replayer's minds transport back in their own timeline.
  • The Omniscient: Frank feels this way about Jeff after Jeff proves right over and over. It gets to be a little too much for him when he discovers Jeff was in Dallas a week before JFK is shot, so he cuts off ties with Jeff.
  • Point of View: Almost the entire book directly follows Jeff, save for a few times it switches to Pamela and the Epilogue.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: In the sixth replay, Jeff won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Harps Along the Willows in which he interviewed exiles such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Juan Perón and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • Really 700 Years Old: By the end of the book, Jeff is 202 years old in a 43 year old body. Similarly, Pamela is 174 years old in a 39-year-old body.
  • Serial Killer: One replayer is certainly making the most of his repeats.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Jeff always ensures that Martin is wealthy enough to keep him from committing suicide. Also the replay where he has a healthy relationship with Linda.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: At the end of the book, Jeff has learned nothing about replays, the timelapse, or the shady government agency, and hasn't managed to stop Stuart. His life has returned to the original state at the beginning of the book, and his relationship with both Linda and Pamela is uncertain.
  • Shown Their Work: Grimwood did a good job of researching the time period, from seeing which races and stocks would give the highest returns, to seeing when certain technology was available but hadn't taken off yet (ie, there were commercially available but expensive word processors and videotape machines available in the 1970s - long before both became popular in the 1980s.) However, one major example of Artistic License History occurs in the third replay: Jeff attends a nightclub performance given by Sidney Bechet in Paris in 1963 or 1964. In reality, Bechet died in 1959.
  • The Slow Path: Jeff's return to his replay point is instant each time, but then he has to live his life to 1988 again.
  • Tag Line: If you could live your life over again...
  • Take Our Word for It: The description of the tear-inducing movie Starsea, which in-universe was a blockbuster movie everyone was talking about, and the story Pamela tells her children of it.
  • Take That!:
    • A mild one, where Jeff first meets Pamela and asks her about her filmmaking plans after Starsea. At one point he suggests that if she produces Raiders of the Lost Ark, she should "talk to Spielberg about the first sequel".
    • When Frank drags him to see Dr. No for the fourth or fifth time in the first replay, Jeff says, "At least it's not Roger Moore."
  • That Was Not a Dream: Invoked during Jeff's first replay. Also, after Jeff awakens from his final replay at a point following the heart attack, he needs to call Pamela to verify that their loops actually occurred.
  • The Unreveal: It turns out that when the replays finally end, nothing happens and your life continues as normal in the original timeline.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit:
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Jeff's heart attack happens in 1988, but the book was published in 1986 - two years before 1988. The most up-to-date event covered is The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, but the author remains purposefully vague on 1987 and 1988, because they hadn't actually happened yet. While there were arguably plenty of notable events in those years, luckily there was nothing on the level of another Pearl Harbor or a 9/11.
  • What Year Is This?: Jeff asks this a few times when he repeats.
  • Who Shot JFK?: Jeff tries to stop Lee Harvey Oswald a week beforehand, but realizes there must be a larger conspiracy because the assassination still happens, just with a different shooter, Nelson Bennett, a Communist with links to the Soviet embassy in Mexico. Like Oswald, he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters on November 24, 1963.