Ferguson’s playful debut novel mixes a coming-of-age story with time travel.
“I feel like I should be changing,” 19-year-old Val says. Henry, her high school boyfriend, no longer seems like enough, so she ditches him and his best friend, Gabe, for life at NYU. Soon after, Henry disappears, leaving Gabe to search for him and also to reconcile his latent feelings for Val. But Ferguson doesn’t keep Henry’s whereabouts a secret: He's been abducted by older versions of himself—one at 80, one at 41. Henry can travel through time, see, and his older versions want to help him avoid mistakes, even if it means altering their own realities. Sound confusing, like a Charlie Kaufman–esque head trip? This plot summary makes the novel seem more difficult than it is. As Henry moves through time, Gabe and Val remain in place, and Ferguson gives equal weight to each point of view. In other words, though Henry’s story may be tricky, Ferguson never strays far from the anchor of the other two characters, a neat narrative maneuver that makes the novel not as confusing as it should be. Despite all the time travel, Ferguson’s core is a coming-of-age tale that takes the form of a love triangle; remove the fantasy, and you have a novel as old-fashioned as Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot (2011). But that’s not a bad thing—Ferguson never stresses the weirdness of his construction, focusing instead on convincingly realistic details so that even the surrealism seems earthbound. The novel never quite reaches the conclusion it deserves—Ferguson opts for mezzo piano when fortissimo would’ve been best—but no matter: This book, like good music, will sweep you up.
An auspicious debut that blends a number of disparate-seeming tones into something surprisingly coherent—and moving.