Likely Stories: Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Jan 31, 2019

Suspenseful dystopian novel by an original woman of letters.

I'm Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I have long admired, read, and re-read many books by Joyce Carol Oates.  It pains me to admit I was ever so slightly disappointed by her latest novel, Hazards of Time Travel.  She has written a wide variety of novels, and I can honestly say almost all have thrilled me.  Her output is prodigious.  For an avid book collector, it is a daunting task to keep up with so many wonderful novels. 

Hazards has an ominous beginning.  Oates writes, “Hereby, entered on this the 19th day June NAS-23 in the 16th Federal District, Eastern-Atlantic states, a warrant for the arrest, detention, reassignment and sentencing of STROHL, ADRIANE S., 17, daughter of ERIC and MADELEINE STROHL, 3911 N. 17th St., Pennsboro, N.J., on seven counts of Treason-Speech and Questioning of Authority in violation of Federal Statues 2 and 7.  Signed by order of Chief Justice H.R. Sedgwick, 16th Federal District” (13).

Adriane has been at the top of her high school class, and she is thrilled to give the Valedictory address to her class.  She ignores the suggestions of her teachers and writes a rather stunning speech.  She lists provocative questions about the state of the nation.  She only poses the questions.

Oates writes, “The words were brisk, impersonal: ‘Strohl, Adriane.  Hands behind your back.’ // It happened so fast.  At graduation rehearsal. // So fast!  I was too surprised—too scared—to think of resisting. // Except I guess that I did—try to ‘resist’—in childish desperation tried to duck and cringe away from the officers’ rough hands on me—wrenching my arms behind my back with such force, I had to bite my lips to keep from screaming. // […] Yet even in my shock thinking I will not scream.  I will not beg for mercy” (25).  She is a strong young woman even in the face of torture.

As her punishment, she is “teletransported” to 1950 for a term of 4 years.  She is given a new name, Mary Ellen, an identity card, and a list of violations would cause her to be vaporized.  She finds herself in a fully funded college scholarship, in a mysterious college.  She begins to develop a crush on a teaching assistant in her psychology class.

Mary Ellen Enright proves to be an outstanding student and receives the highest grades—rarely bestowed on an undergraduate student in Professor Axtel’s coveted class.  Among the terms of her exile, she was warned to remain within a ten-mile perimeter of her college. She was also warned about discussing her sentence or her true identity.  Another friend, Ira, plots an escape.  Adriene is fearful and skeptical.  An explosion occurs, Ira disappears, and she is struck by lightning.  She spends a long time in the hospital. 

My disappointment lies mainly in the ending.  Normally, I enjoy novels with little or no knots untied, but in this particular instance, I wanted more.  I wanted to search the corners of Oates’ mind to understand her thought processes, but I guess I will have to go it alone in this case.  Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates is, never-the-less, an absorbing and tense story.  4.9 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!