James L. Rubart. The Five Times I Met Myself. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Imagine that you could go back in time and warn your younger self not to make the same mistakes that you did. Is that something you would want to do? I sure would!
That is what this novel is about. This book won a Christy Award in 2016. Not only did it win in the “Visionary” category, but it won the “Book of the Year” category, too!
Brock Matthews co-owns the successful Black Fedora coffee company with his younger brother, Ron, though Ron owns more shares and is thus in command. Brock does the marketing and is the public face of the company, whereas Ron handles the business end. Ron is a friendly, joking sort, but Ron and Brock have been rivals for a long time, one reason being that their father always favored Ron.
Meanwhile, Brock’s marriage to his wife Karissa is on the rocks. They are still civil to each other, but the wind has gone out of the sails of their marriage. They have become distant from each other ever since their son Travis left home to go to college. And Karissa feels that Brock makes everything about Brock’s wants and needs.
Brock’s long-time friend Morgan lends Brock a book about lucid dreaming, in which a person can control his or her dreams. Brock tries it out one night by reliving the day that he proposed to Karissa, and he makes a fool of himself. When he wakes up, he finds that Karissa remembers his proposal to her differently from how it originally happened, and that makes Brock suspect that lucid dreaming can change history! Brock goes back to the past more times in his dreams, except, those times, he encounters his younger self as a separate person and gives his younger self advice. As a result, Brock changes things in his life dramatically! Some things are for the better, for himself or others. Some things are a lot worse.
In the movie and TV show Frequency, a person who changes the past remembers both the original timeline and the new one. Brock is not so fortunate, so, when he wakes up, he has to learn what the changes are and what he did in the past. On the one hand, this allows readers to follow Brock as he attempts to solve the mystery of what changed and why. On the other hand, did it do any good for Brock to convince his younger self to go to business school and run the company, if Brock would wake up and not remember even going to business school, let alone what he learned there?
There are puzzling details in this book, as is often the case in time travel stories. In one timeline, young Brock left for his future self a time capsule encouraging him to get along with his brother, yet this Brock would grow up to conspire to force Ron out of the company! I suppose that this puzzle can be explained away by saying that the rivalry was still endemic in Brock, even though Brock had occasional insight into what the right thing was. Here is a more difficult puzzle to solve: In many of the timelines, Morgan never even gave Brock the book about lucid dreaming, and yet Brock was still practicing lucid dreaming and meeting with the psychiatrist who wrote the book. How could that be, in the timelines in which Morgan never gave Brock the book?
It is also somewhat implausible to me that people did not know that Brock was Brock when he went back in time. Young Brock wondered who exactly this person was, claiming to be from the future, giving him advice, knowing all about him, and predicting things that turned out to be eerily accurate. In one scene, Brock goes back in time, as his middle-aged self, and sits with his father at the football game that Brock was invited to attend with his father but did not attend. Brock’s father thinks that middle-aged Brock is just another guy, nobody special, certainly not his son Brock! If I went back in time and encountered my younger self, I think that my younger self and family would recognize me, even though I would look somewhat different. Consider the movie The Time Traveller’s Wife: Henry went back in time to be the groom at his own wedding. People still knew who he was, even though they were wondering where all that gray in his hair came from, and how he got fat all of a sudden!
If there is a lesson that I got from this book, it is that Brock took his character flaws with him, however history got changed. Throughout the different timelines, Brock still carried around resentments and regrets about his relationship with his father. Brock was still self-centered in his relationships. Brock still had a fierce rivalry with his brother, and, in one timeline, that manifested itself in a very unfortunate way (to say the least). Brock still looked to the business to fill the hole in his heart.
The continuity issues may leave me scratching my head, and the author actually plays with one continuity issue at the end of the book. Despite its bumps, the book is worthwhile to read, because the point is that God is the one enabling Brock to go back in time so that Brock can learn about himself. Brock learns that he needs God’s grace to deal with his inner demons, and God’s love to fill the hole in his heart. The latter idea is not fully developed: we see how looking to something besides God to fill one’s soul can lead to disappointment and disaster, but not exactly why God should be what fills that hole. Still, there is a profound statement on page 377: “Maybe that’s what dying to self means. Where you’re not worried about being loved but how well you can love another.” And such a person is not worried about being loved because she realizes that God already loves her, more than she can know.
The book intrigued me in a lot of places. An especially moving scene was the one in which middle-aged Morgan was sitting with his father at that football game. That part was a tear-jerker. In terms of negatives, I occasionally got irritated by the inane banter by Morgan and Ron!
Good book. Definitely Christy-worthy. By the way, I still wish I could go back in time and advise my younger self!