05 Feb 2018
I’ve been on a time travel kick lately. It wasn’t by choice, it just seemed like I was making selections that all have the same theme. So I’ve been reading books like Timebound and the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series and watching movies like Looper and Safety Not Guaranteed. It was while watching that movie that I discovered a great observation about what makes a good time travel movie: The better ones are about the characters, not the time travel.
This perfectly describes the problem I had with “Back to Reality,” which I finished last night six months after I bought it. But first, let’s talk about the story.
Start with the idea of parallel universes, and that a decision made in one universe creates a new universe in which the other decision was made. Jo was a singer who had the opportunity to become a pop star. Instead, she chose to be a wife and mother. Divorced and living with her teenage rebellious daughter, a mystical light transports her into the body of Yohanna, behind the wheel of a double-decker bus on the Pacific Coast Highway and about to crash.
The first part of the book describes her coming to grips with her unexpected situation, while her alter ego Yohanna, whose attempt at astral travel caused the switch, finds herself a ghost in Jo’s former life. To switch back, they’re both tasked with finding the guru responsible for this and switch back.
It’s an appealing setup, and for awhile I was happy to roll along and enjoy the older, wiser Jo finding herself in a younger body and dealing with “her” imperious manager trying to position her as the next pop tart.
And that’s pretty much the whole story. The rest of the book proceeds along a straight line toward that quest. If that is sufficient, “Back to Reality” fulfills its simple premise entertainingly. There’s some fun made with the differences in Jo’s new world. Madonna is not a star, Harrison Ford is still a carpenter, and to rescue her disastrous appearance on a talk show, Jo steals Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” At the climax, they discover that switching back requires them both to be on a ley line that runs through the site of the Glastonbury music festival, and there’s some amusing bits there.
It’s just that somewhere around the middle, I was wishing there could have been more. Jo’s quest was to return to her own world. Did she never think of staying? There was a subplot about her guilt over the death of her mother when Jo was a child. If in Yohanna’s world, the mother was still alive, would that encourage Jo to stay? Should she sacrifice her needs and dreams for a stranger she never met, even if it’s her? “Back to Reality” had the opportunity to pose difficult questions about the choices we make and the price we pay for making them. What it gave us was good enough, but it could have been so much better.