Monday, October 18, 2010

Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski

Yes, I do still read books written for grown-ups. Also sometimes I accidentally hit ctl-P and publish a post before I write more than one sentence.

So, okay, where was I? Expiration Date. I saw this reviewed somewhere and thought it sounded interesting, so I bought it, and then I looked at it in confusion and couldn't remember why I'd bought it. And then I read the back and thought, "Hey, interesting." I sometimes suspect I have the memory of a goldfish.

Mickey Wade is newly unemployed with no prospects and no savings. He moves into his grandfather's old apartment in his childhood neighborhood, now a bad part of town, since his grandfather's in a coma in the hospital. The first night he's there, Mickey wakes up in the middle of the night--in the past. It's 1972, the year he was born.

The more Mickey learns about the events in his past, the more uneasy he becomes. It's not just about his own past, but his father's and his grandfather's too. Oh, and a string of unsolved murders--including the murder of Mickey's dad.

The book is well-written, unfolding without haste but with plenty of tension. Mickey isn't the most sympathetic character I've ever read--he makes poor choices and drinks too much--but he's understandable and he tries to do the right thing. The plot is a fascinating take on a time-travel story. I thought I had it figured out toward the beginning, but I was completely wrong. That's a great feeling.

I did find the story awfully depressing. There are no bright spots in Mickey's life. Even Meghan, the friend who helps him as he slips in and out of the past, is a little distant with him. His family is a dysfunctional mess, his life in such ruins that it almost felt a little cartoonish. But the gritty, atmospheric look at 1972 Philadelphia manages to be both compelling and nostalgic without being overwhelmed by the intricate (and sometimes confusing) plot.

I enjoyed the book very much, but I will say the ending left me a little flat. I'd have liked it if Mickey was a little quicker on the uptake about the events at the end, and the very last couple of lines just soured me on the whole book. I won't go into detail because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I will say that there is no feasible way that the item described in the last few sentences could be there. None. It was such a blatant "look how clever I am" moment on the author's part that it retroactively made the whole book that much less enjoyable.

But it's still a good book. Just ignore the last paragraph.

B&N link


King Rat said...

I totally agree on the ending. This is what I wrote about it:

However, as much as I enjoyed the time travel as narrative device and the relationships of the book, I am rather pissed at the book’s ending. Actually offended even. The ending turns a dirty crime novel into a Leave It To Beaver episode. For the love of god, just stop reading at the end of the second to last chapter. It’s so much better that way. I read an advance uncorrected proof. I hope to god someone came to their senses and dropped the last chapter for the real book.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'm so glad to hear that it's not just me. The last chapter didn't work for me, and that last paragraph just flat out annoyed me.

It may have been your review that made me buy the book. I wish I'd remembered your tip about the last chapter.