Rowena Wright,
A Loop in Time
(Finial, 2006)

I'm torn over the review for this book. There are things about Rowena Wright's debut I quite liked: early portions of the plot, the rhythm of the language in certain sections, the notion of a child's blanket infused with the personalities of scientists from various points in history. But there are also a significant number of components of the novel I feel did not work at all well.

A Loop in Time is the story of young Ericca Ludwig, daughter of Sophia Ludwig and Branch Archer. Sophia and Branch immigrated to New York City from Ringgold, a mysterious realm or dimension or some such, along with a small band of similarly demigod-like beings. All of these not-quite-human creatures, with the exception of Sophia, manage to become highly successful members of New York society, amassing fortunes, or power and prestige, through real estate or academics or technological innovation. Sophia, on the other hand, works as a librarian and, since her husband's fiery demise in the Time Tunnel Wars, has struggled as a working-class single mother raising a Ringgold daughter.

Wright brings an infectious enthusiasm for Egyptian mythology and for the history of science to her tale, and she weaves these disparate elements into her plot in intriguing ways. But there's a disjointedness to the novel I think comes from trying to work all of her diverse passions into a storyline that hasn't been properly designed to accommodate them. The book's fantastical elements -- flying cars, paintings that lead to alternative dimensions, time travel, antigravity -- feel disconnected and arbitrary, and this undermines the reader's suspension of disbelief. It also seems as if, while Wright may have worked out the details of how such things as the Time Tunnel Wars bridge the gap between the Ringgold and human worlds, she has neglected to work this bit of background into her narrative. The reader is left guessing.

As well, Wright hasn't developed a great ear for dialogue. There's an artificiality to the way people, particularly the children and teenagers that populate A Loop in Time, speak. But even the adult characters have been given plenty of clunky dialogue. As Quint and Daemon are about to begin a game of "blind chess," Quint says, "Of course ... the rules of blind chess are the same." Quint then proceeds to explain the rules to his opponent and outlines the role of each chess piece. By the time Daemon has finished describing all of his opposing chess pieces, the reader has had to endure more than four pages of exposition masquerading as conversation. This is quite simply poor writing technique.

A Loop in Time is listed, on a publicity postcard I received along with the novel, as young-adult fiction, but aside from the fact that several of the central characters are in their teens, the book doesn't read as though it's particularly geared to a young audience. The author, who, I was surprised to learn, does have a daughter of her own, pitches her writing to quite different audiences over the course of the book. There are sequences that feel as though they've been written for pre-teen readers and other sections I expect would be overly complex thematically and linguistically for those same readers. Like too many other aspects to this book, there's an inconsistency to this part of the writing.

Looking beyond the technical quality of the writing, there are far too many convenient turns to the plot in A Loop in Time. Unexpected help arrives just at the moment someone is tumbling from a skyscraper. A neighbor's girlfriend who lives thousands of miles away agrees to take Ericca in when Sophia winds up in jail. And the woman doesn't question how Ericca manages to show up in Seattle sooner than any flight could get her there. No one ever seems to notice Quint's flying car.

Wright's characters feel like pawns, the author directing them to move this way or that according to her preconceived plan for the plot. They don't feel like internally motivated, fully functioning people. Ironically, the characters that seem to have the greatest degree of autonomy are Albert Einstein and Leonardo Fibonacci, whose essences reside in Ericca's blanket. The pair argues incessantly about science, philosophy and Ringgold technology, and this allows the author to explain such concepts as the Fibonacci numbers to readers in a completely natural way. But until the author is able to loosen the reigns on the rest of her characters and follow them where they lead, her fiction will fail to come fully alive for the reader.

Perhaps by the time the second book in the Polis series is written, Wright will have learned to trust her creations enough to let them help her construct a better book. Only time will tell.

review by
Gregg Thurlbeck

1 March 2008

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