Review of Replay by Ken Grimwood
by Ken Grimwood
Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
For the first time in a while, I actually regret sticking out this book instead of DNF-ing it. It was bad. Just as I was starting to lose all hope, there was a glimmer a couple of hours in that made me hang on a bit longer. And then I figured I might as well finish the whole thing just to learn why Jeff keeps replaying parts of his life. Because when you get right down to it, Replay has a sick and amazing premise, but Ken Grimwood's writing leaves much to be desired.
Grimwood's prose is so purple I'm surprised it's not gangrenous. I listened to the audio version (because that was the only version available from my library), mostly at 2.4x speed, and it still felt like too long. Grimwood feels it's necessary to describe every single thing in detail. It's not just a table; it's a luxurious oak table with a fine gold inlay that Jeff purchased with money he won or got from investments or whatever. She's not just a woman; she has pert yet simultaneously round breasts that rise just the right amount as she raises her long, slender arms above her head. Every time Jeff picks up a glass of wine or looks at an album label the narrator has to interject with some kind of commentary on the vintage or irrelevant facts about the career of that band.
It is, quite literally, a maddening experience.
I could almost forgive that, but Replay is also just creepily male gazey. At one point, pretty early on in the novel, Jeff literally calls a woman "a machine made for fucking."
You just don't say that, ever, with the possible exception of writing (bad) erotic fiction.
Oh, and then he gives that character a huge bag of money because he's breaking up with her, and she pity fucks him, because "for $250,000 you deserve it." What??
But this isn't just poor writing. Indeed, it should be a laudable thing when I inform you that, aside from Jeff, almost every other character of note in this book is a woman. That is, until you realize that's the case because they are all sex interests for Jeff. Grimwood spends an inordinate time focusing on Jeff's sex life. The bulk of Jeff's replays focus on which woman he decides to shack up with and how well she satisfies his physical and emotional man-baby needs. And with the exception of his mother (because ew), even if Jeff doesn't sleep with a woman, he still thinks about sleeping with her, and the narrator describes her entirely in terms of how fuckable she is.
This is pretty much the textbook example of male gaze. It's painful to listen to this for hours on end. Now I know what's like for women to watch or read most movies or books. So, yeah. Thanks, Replay, for helping me to build empathy with how women feel in our society by being so terribly creepy? I think?
It's just such a shame that this amazing premise gets squandered. Jeff, and then Jeff and Pamela when he meets her during his third replay, speculate a little as to the cause and reason behind their staggered, spiralling reincarnations. Yet there is no payoff. None. We never learn why or how they keep reliving their lives, just that they have learned some big lesson about making the most out of their futures. Except I'm pretty sure that Jeff is just going to continue evaluating women's worth as sex objects and being a terrible husband, because he is the worst.
Just don't read this book.