Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Sometimes I get to read just for the fun of it. Usually I pick older books – I don’t know why, but my last excursion to the library, I ran across this book and became fascinated by title. I really enjoy reading good science fiction and fantasy literature. This one did not disappoint me.

Joyce Carol Oates is a very prolific writer, but much to my chagrin, I have to admit that I had not read any of her works before. I plan to change that on my next trip to the library.

The story begins in the not too distant future in what had been known as New Jersey, U.S.A. The USA as we in the 21st century know it has ceased to exist. Citizens are not even allowed to say the words, “Government” or “State.” The FBI has become the Federal Bureau of Inquistors. The politicians are chosen by their wealth, and ALL thought other than those sanctioned by the government is met with immediate and severe consequences

Adriane Stohl is a senior in high school who has been raised by parents – in particular, her father – who value the concept of “Self” and “Truth.” Her father, who had been a well known pediatrician has become an MI, or Marked Individual because he listened to a protestor in a park.

Adriane gets into trouble when she is chosen to be the valedictorian of her graduating class and chooses to write her own speech rather than pattern it on those of other students. Her family had always worried about her because she chose to do her best at the subjects she studied, and get the “A’s” she deserved. But is this society, standing out by getting good grades or being different from others is frowned upon. Her speech was actually only a series of questions, designed to make her classmates think about life and themselves in particular. Unfortunately, that sort of behavior was NOT acceptable, and she was arrested for her crime of promoting subversive thinking.

She is sentenced to be teleported back in time to 1959 to a small private university in a town called Wainscotia, Wisconsin. It was either that or to be Deleted so she was thankful for the mercy of her judges. She is given a totally new existence, a new name, a new family history and a set of rules to follow. Her sentence is for four years. (Just enough time for her to finish a college education.) Then she is to be taken back to her own time – provided she had kept the rules and not allowed anyone to know who she really was.

At the university she meets young psychology professor and somehow identifies him as a fellow Exile. How the two of them deal with their situation is the main theme of the book. The psychology of Skinner is the prevailing theory being taught at the university. Skinner believed that man was just a machine that behaved in certain ways because of the experiences the person had encountered. The professor, Ira Wolfman, comes to believe that they will not be punished if they break the rules, and he tries to get Adriane (or Mary Ann as she is now known) to go with him to California. One of the rules is that they cannot travel more than ten miles away from where they are living. He tells her that either they CAN travel away as they choose, or that what they are experiencing is only a Virtual Reality constructed by their jailers. In any case, he believes that their reality is only limited by their own minds.

At times the book becomes very philosophical, but Oates always pulls the reader back into the action of the story. The paranoia of the 1950’s about Russia and nuclear war is very clear. The limited mindset of many Caucasian Americans in the 1950’s becomes very real. The book is tragic and hopeful at the same time. The reader will not be the same after spending time reading it. Although my library has this in its Adult collection, I think it would be a good volume to add to any YA library. There is ONE “F bomb” in the book and one very limited sex reference. I would highly recommend it.