A dispirited academic discovers a drug that lets him relive better days.
Win Duncan is a 40-year-old professor, unpublished and therefore about to perish on the tenure track. He is stalled in the middle of his book project, which was meant to establish Thomas De Quincy, author of the infamous Confessions of an English Opium Eater, as the father of modern pharmacology. Win’s wife, Edie, by contrast, has just made another academic star turn and is certain to land a permanent position at the small New England college where they both teach. Win can’t remember the last time they made love, and his successful ad exec father’s entreaties for Win to return to New York and earn some big bucks working for him further depletes Win’s self-esteem. So it is with much more than mere curiosity that Win decides to act on an out-of-the-blue request from a long-lost grad-school friend, Phil Litminov, who parachutes back into Win’s life with a late-night phone call asking him to help beta-test a potential blockbuster new drug Litminov is developing, called Mem. Litminov’s little pill transports users to any point in their past. The hyper-reality of re-experience as engendered by Mem is more intoxicating than opium. Taking Mem, Win remembers with molecular accuracy his better, brighter self, and before he knows it, he’s lying to his wife, blowing off his classes, abusing the trust of his best friend and otherwise ruining his present life. He’ll do anything to get back to Litminov’s strange, tumble-down Connecticut mansion that serves as his “laboratory,” where he takes guided Mem tours back in time. Kennedy (Black Livingstone, 2002, etc.), who often writes about those on the edges of society in both fiction and nonfiction formats, has a quirky, compelling idea along the lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When the drug wears off, however, what’s left is a typical immature-academic coming-of-age story.