Book #8: “Replay” — Ken Grimwood (1986)
Let’s get this out upfront: “Replay” isn’t a great book. But its concept is so compelling, and its execution so heartfelt, it is easy to overlook its flaws and understand why it has such a huge cult following. The premise is simple: What if you could live your life again, knowing everything you know now?
Replay’s protagonist, a schlub named Jeff, finds himself waking up in 1963 after dying in 1988. He gets to do everything over from the age of 18 and avoid all the mistakes he made the first time. Except — Jeff keeps dying every time he gets to 1988, reliving the same 25 year period of history again and again. Each time, he takes a different tact, tries a different approach to life, all while searching for meaning as to why his life is the way it is.
There is a plot, and a mystery, but the genius of the story — according to NPR commentator Brad Meltzer at least — is “Replay” is about you:
“The moment Ken Grimwood has his authorly hooks in you, you can’t help but look at your own life and think, ‘What would I do differently if I could live my life again?’ And not in the way we all casually play this game. Really — What would I do differently?”