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Version Control by Dexter Palmer

PalmerThe author earned his doctorate from Princeton with a thesis on the works of James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis. The complexity and depth of those writers is mirrored in Palmer’s 500-page novel, Version Control.

On the surface, Version Control is a time travel saga built around the lives of its two principal characters, physicist Philip Steiner and his wife, Rebecca Wright. Rebecca works for Lovability, a computer dating service. Much of the book’s social commentary and humor come from passages that deal with computer dating. By contrast, Richard is a physicist who heads a team of scientists tasked with building a time machine. No one on this team seriously believes the goal will be achieved but hopes their research will lead to developments in the future. All are single minded in their dedication to the project. Unlike her genius husband and his brilliant associates, Rebecca is a somewhat average young woman who meets Philip through Lovability. He falls in love with her, and finding his emotions a distraction to his work, proposes marriage. This does not bode well for Rebecca.

In the December 8, 2015 issue of Kirkus, the reviewer notes the book “offers some of the same pleasures as one of those state-of-the-union (domestic and national) epics by Jonathan Franzen, yet its speculative nature becomes increasingly apparent as the novel progresses (while its characters apparently don’t).” The concept of time appears to be circular with different realities existing simultaneously. In different versions Palmer offers of a fatal car crash, Rebecca dies; in another, Richard does; in yet a third, their son, Sean, is killed. The plot weaves different possibilities with different outcomes.

Only at the end does the reader fully understand Palmer’s main themes. When Philip muses, “Ulysses is not a story, as much as a system of the world” (cited in Kirkus, December 8, 2015) he is speaking for the author. Palmer’s journey motif is brought to a new dimension and the depersonalization of society by social media, online dating, and the pursuit of pure science come to a spectacular end.

Dexter Palmer has written a tour de force that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers.

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