The millennial midlife crisis has arrived.
Yes, while you’ve been cracking jokes about avocado toast, the eldest millennials have quietly, and with great dread, entered their 40s. Given that they can’t afford homes, never mind sports cars, what’s a millennial’s midlife crisis look like? In Emma Straub’s winning new novel “This Time Tomorrow” (Riverhead, 320 pp., ★★★½ out of four, out Tuesday), it looks a little like the movies they grew up on, with a dash of time travel to spice up the existential dread.
Alice Stern’s father is dying. That’s tough on any daughter, but it’s hitting Alice particularly hard as she approaches a midlife crossroads: She’s about to turn 40, suspects she’s going to be proposed to by a man she doesn’t want to marry and still can’t decide if she wants children despite a biological clock that’s rapidly ticking down. She can’t seem to definitively make up her mind about anything, and the one constant in her life, the single father who raised her with unwavering if imperfect love, is lying unresponsive in a hospital bed.
‘The Summer Place’:Jennifer Weiner’s new book is so good, it will be on every beach this summer
“There was supposed to be an upside to adulthood, wasn’t there?” Alice muses. “The period of your life that was your own, and not chosen for you by other people?”
It doesn’t help that she’s still at the exclusive private Belvedere School where she spent her adolescence, working in admissions, where she decides which of her old classmates’ kids make the cut. Alice’s sense of arrested development gets thrown into overdrive when her unrequited teenage crush walks through her office door with a beautiful wife and young son in tow.
All those intense adolescent feelings come flooding back, complicated by remorse over paths not taken. Could this have been her life if she’d told the cute boy with the lush Jordan Catalano hair how she felt?
May’s top rom-com reads:Emily Henry’s ‘Book Lovers’ and Casey McQuiston’s ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’
She gets a chance to find out when, after a night of drunken revelry on her 40th birthday that ends with her passing out in an empty guardhouse, she wakes up to find herself in her childhood bed in her father’s home, 16 years old again. The guardhouse, she discovers, is a time portal. On one side it’s her 16th birthday and on the other her 40th, and the changes she makes to her past are reflected in her future. It’s eerily similar to “Time Brothers,” the sci-fi novel about time-traveling brothers her father authored, that made her dad a popular staple at nerd conventions.
What would you change, if you could go back to 16? Would you sleep with your crush at your birthday party? Do drugs? Shave your head? Beg your father to quit smoking? Tell him you love him more?
Alice does it all, trying to engineer a happier future – one that doesn’t include her father on his deathbed on her 40th birthday. With each trip back to 16, she gets a better understanding of her father, who’d seemed so old when she was a kid but now seems so young.
“Alice and her father had always been such good friends,” Straub writes. “It was luck, she knew, plain luck, that gave some families complementary personalities. So many people spent their lives wishing to be understood. All Alice wanted was more time.”
“This Time Tomorrow” is technically a time travel book, but not the way Alice’s father’s book is. Straub is not so much concerned with time travel mechanics, the butterfly effect, or killing baby Hitler (or whatever the 1990s equivalent of that moral test would be). Straub is concerned with love – its different forms and expressions, how it evolves over time, and how we can be better at giving and accepting it.
Love, too, for her own father, horror novelist Peter Straub, whom she thanks in the acknowledgments “for receiving this book as it was intended, as a gift.”
Because even if you could go back and change everything else, the love would remain the same.
‘Managing Expectations’:Minnie Driver writes about life, Hollywood (and Harvey Weinstein)