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An Ocean of Minutes

Review

An Ocean of Minutes

In the fall of 1981, a flu pandemic sweeps across the United States, primarily infecting people in the south. Polly and Frank are vacationing in Texas from New York when Frank falls sick. Far from home, frightened and unable to afford the medical treatment, Polly decides to embark on a radical path to save Frank’s life. She signs on with the Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative and agrees to two years of bonded labor for TimeRaiser in the future in exchange for the treatment. They plan to meet again in 1993. When Polly wakes up in the future, however, she is in 1998 and has no idea if Frank is still looking for her or if he is even still alive.

Thea Lim’s fantastic debut novel, AN OCEAN OF MINUTES, follows Polly as she navigates not just an unfamiliar world but also her hope and grief as she tries to find Frank.

"AN OCEAN OF MINUTES is an astute novel.... It is a delightful, often sorrowful, thoughtful and accomplished arrival for this first-time author."

Even before she leaves 1981, Polly’s experiences with TimeRaiser are confusing and traumatic. Her skills as a furniture refinisher grants her special work status, but she sees that those bonded as manual laborers are treated differently. Yet even her higher ranking cannot protect her from the Kafkaesque TimeRaiser bureaucracy or assure her of any assistance finding Frank. She lives in a crowded and primitive apartment, and everything she wants and needs adds to the amount she owes TimeRaiser, keeping her captive that much longer. Her first employer, Baird, is working on restoring a pre-pandemic hotel, hoping to cater to those with both money and nostalgia. But Baird is unpredictable to the point of danger, and Polly can’t seem to stay out of trouble in the bewildering reality in which she finds herself.

When she loses her job at the hotel, Polly loses her status and is reduced to making tile in a labor camp. She enters into a scam relationship in order to gain more autonomy and earlier freedom, but that proves to be a disaster as well as a heartbreak. Although Polly meets several fairly sympathetic people, she is essentially on her own. When her luck finally changes, and she is freed from her bonds to TimeRaiser and able to seek Frank and her old life in Buffalo, she must confront the passage of time in other, equally challenging, ways.

Lim’s style is straightforward but still manages to be evocative and elegant. Though the mechanisms of the time travel aspects of the book are never clearly explained, Lim is able to use time travel as a way to explore themes of love, belonging, freedom, class and the passage of time itself. Flashbacks of Polly and Frank’s romance, and the typical tensions that emerge over time in even the best of relationships, are rich and lovely, and balance out the stark vision of 1998, creating an even and sure-handed novel that flows well in terms of story, pace and character development. Lim allows her readers to get to know Polly and her partnership with Frank, but still offers surprise and revelation as the story progresses.

AN OCEAN OF MINUTES is an astute novel. Using familiar speculative fiction tropes, Lim takes a love story and turns it around, ending up with a tale of self-possession and survival. It is a delightful, often sorrowful, thoughtful and accomplished arrival for this first-time author.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 20, 2018

An Ocean of Minutes
by Thea Lim

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1501192558
  • ISBN-13: 9781501192555