My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Early on, a character in BULLETTIME describes Wong Kar-wai’s film 2046 this way: “[T]here are different timelines and stuff. There’s a sci-fi story wrapped up in the other stuff. And it’s non-chronological.” The same could be said of this complex and compelling novel of fractured timelines, diverse fates, and the awfulness of high school. But for all its talk of different choices leading to different outcomes, of a multitude of possible futures, the novel really seems to be about inevitability. We know where it’s going from page one. Mamatas isn’t concerned about suspense here, just the exploration of the decisions made by an average high school outsider, Dave Holbrook, under pressure from unyielding cosmic manipulation. (Now that I think of it, “under pressure from unyielding cosmic manipulation” might be a great way to describe how many of us, myself included, felt during high school.) It’s well written, the science-fictional elements are a lot of fun, and Dave never feels inauthentic, but the novel ends too abruptly. It’s already a short novel, even just a few more paragraphs to bring the narrative to a satisfying close would have been welcome. Instead, it feels as if we are abandoned in the middle of what ought to be a very interesting and important scene, one that could ultimately lead to narrative closure. This, plus an off-putting fascination with oral sex and the sexualization of pretty much every female character except Dave’s mom and the school nurse, unfortunately diminish what is otherwise a fascinating and cogent tale.