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Joyce Carol Oates views past through lens of future in ‘Hazards of Time Travel’

In the future America of Joyce Carol Oates’ cerebral new novel “Hazards of Time Travel,” history and free thought are off-limits.

In the future America of Joyce Carol Oates’ cerebral new novel “Hazards of Time Travel,” history and free thought are off-limits. | HarperCollins

In the future America of Joyce Carol Oates’ “Hazards of Time Travel” (Ecco, $26.99), history and free thought are off-limits.

So high school senior Adriane Strohl is arrested for treasonous speech when it’s revealed her valedictory address is questions her classmates haven’t the nerve to ask. While the curious student isn’t “deleted,” as some have been, she’s sent into exile 80 years into the past to the idyllic town of Wainscotia, Wisconsin. Here, Adriane will face the “Hazards of Time Travel.”

Armed with firm rules (no questions, no intimate relationships, no provision of future knowledge, among others), a fake birth certificate, a vague backstory and one box of secondhand clothing, Adriane enters her freshman year at Wainscotia State University.

Save for puzzlement over a typewriter and the oddity of witnessing her housemates smoke cigarettes free from worry, Adriane’s biggest surprises comes in the classroom. While struggling to intellectually find her place, she falls in love with a fellow exile, complicating her existence.

Desperate for intimacy yet unable to attain it without fear of execution, she is suffocated by loneliness. All the while, her classes, art and limited relationships stimulate her thinking in ways she’s never experienced, creating a love story wrapped in psychological turmoil.

Imagery takes a back seat to intellectual discourse. What starts as a familiar dystopian story line morphs into a tale so perplexing one shouldn’t read this book alone. Cerebral book clubs, clear your calendars.