Sunday, April 13, 2008

REVIEW: Timely Persuasion by Jacob LaCivita


I don't usually do this, but today I am simply going to quote Timely Persuasion's official blurb (see here or here) as my plot description (trust me, I have my reasons):

What did Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and my sister have in common? They were all my friends, and they died. Timely Persuasion follows an anonymous music critic on a quest to save his sister from the relationship that ended her life. After a chance encounter at a bowling alley leaves him with the ability to travel in time, our hero uses his musical knowledge to “blink” through the years attempting to keep the couple apart by any means necessary. But is her husband Nelson really to blame? Along the way he launches a new folk rock star, accidentally restructures his family tree, and crosses paths with the likes of Huey Lewis, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel. Reliving past events through the eyes of his younger selves, he soon finds that correlation and causation are not always what they seem. This story of death, life, love, and rock 'n’ roll defies genre conventions while paying tribute to the classic time travel tales that came before it.


Timely Persuasion reflects a peculiar phenomenon that is common in mass-market releases, where hired gun publicists write the back-cover copy, but is less usual in the do-it-yourself POD world. To be blunt, Timely Persuasion's misleading plot blurb makes a fun novel sound absolutely cheesy. Based on the official description (with its promise that the hero is "friends" with Cobain and Hendrix and also "crosses paths" with assorted other rock luminaries), I suspected that Timely Persuasion would be a series of trite wish-fulfillment trysts between a thinly-veiled author-stand-in protagonist and his musical idols, which in the end would add up to little more than a collection of fanboy fantasies.

Happily, Timely Persuasion absolutely does not go down this road. The conceit of the novel is that time travel is possible to any date that resonates strongly in the traveler's memory. For our time-traveling protagonist, those days often have rock music significance. However, our hero does not actually interact with his music idols. Rather, although his remembrances of important music dates are the springboard from which he launches his travels through time, they really are just the backdrop to his real mission: to prevent his sister's suicide.

And so Timely Persuasion ends up being much more enjoyable than the the above description had led me to expect. The writing is professional and polished, and author Jacob LaCivita does an admirable job keeping the complex mechanics of his recursive plot clear for the reader. At times his exposition is a bit too blunt, as one character will spell-out for another exactly what is going on. But that's really no different than Doc Brown drawing on the blackboard to explain the intricacies of time travel for Marty in Back to the Future Part II. And Timely Persuasion is clearly a movie at heart. Indeed, on April 1, LaCivita joked on his blog that Timely Persuasion had already been snatched up as a movie with an all-star cast. Although LaCivita was kidding, Timely Persuasion absolutely has "summer blockbuster" written all over it.

Of course, as I've mentioned before, big-studio summer films are known for being fun and clever, but also for ultimately being disposable. Indeed, Timely Persuasion raises a number of intriguing issues that it never fully explores. For example, the narrator at one point funnels hit songs from the future to a singer from the past, in order to advance the past performer's career. He expressly recognizes that in doing so, he is effectively depriving the future (original) artists of writing (or profiting from) their own songs. Maybe it's just me, but I find the implications of that fascinating (not just in the chicken-and-the-egg paradox sense; what I really find interesting is the ethical and artistic issues). And so perhaps it is unfair of me to criticize LaCivita for staying focused on the tale he wanted to tell, rather than going off on a tangent that I was interested in. But it is very frustrating to have interesting themes explicitly raised, only to be quickly brushed off to the side.

Nonetheless, high-concept films and novels definitely have their place, and Timely Persuasion fits solidly in that category. I enjoyed it for its substantial cleverness, breezy style, and pleasingly convoluted plot, which had just enough pathos at the end to give the journey some substance. If I'm a bit dissatisfied with Timely Persuasion, it is only because I would have liked more focus on some of the side-issues. But even as the novel stands, it is great for beach reading, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

However, I would still change that back jacket copy.


Timely Persuasion is available as a $16.00 paperback or a $5.00 pdf download through Lulu. Alternately, you can read the novel for free through an online reader at the Timely Persuasion website, where further background information is also available. Even more information is available at the novel's blog, including an ongoing series of chapter-by-chapter author's notes and comments. Finally, random bits and pieces thematically linked to the book are available at Local Blog Done Good (the name has significance once you've read the book). LaCivita clearly takes marketing his book seriously (for which he should equally seriously be commended).


In the spirit of Timely Persuasion, I offer up a music track that always pulls me back in time (not from an independent artist, alas -- this dates back to a time before I discovered that wonderful world): Ratt's "Round and Round" (the link is to the DRM-free Amazon music store). Back in 1983, I thought this was a great song; to be honest, I still do. And, should a movie adaptation ever be made, I think "Round and Round" would be the perfect choice to play over the credits. Anyone, or at least anyone from my generation, would instantly understand the concept that pop music can transcend time and create a tunnel straight back through the decades (has it really been 25 years?). And while I know that the song isn't actually about time travel, I don't think anyone really knows the lyrics beyond the perfectly apropos "Round and round/what goes around comes around/I'll tell you why" anyhow. So cum on feel the noize! (oh wait, that was someone else.)

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