Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong Todays

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All Our Wrong Todays Summary

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All Our Wrong Todays, a speculative novel by Elan Mastai, is told from the perspective of Tom Barren, an unreliable narrator who claims to be a time-traveler from an alternate universe who is trying to write his memoir. While repeatedly apologizing for his self-perceived inability to write a “good” report of his life, he attempts to explain how he was stranded in his readers’ ordinary universe. Tom vacillates between the present and past tense without establishing clear chronological guideposts, suggesting that he is still split between different realities and that these realities occasionally converge. The novel falls into the postmodern genre for its involvement of many metaphors from quantum physics, including the metaphor of parallel universes. It ties these themes to the familiar modern struggle of the individual to find his correct time and place in a shifting and unreliable world.

At the beginning of the “memoir,” Tom Barren introduces himself. He claims to hail from an extraordinary alternate reality in which technological advancement far surpasses our own. In his old world, intelligent machine servants and hover cars are ubiquitous. He laments that he did something that caused the end of that reality, but he does not explain further. He also apologizes, repeatedly, for being a poor writer. Next, Tom turns to the year 1965, when inventor Lionel Goettreider created an engine that could generate unlimited energy. This invention is the catalyst for his home universe’s technological divergence from the one he is now in. Victor Barren, Tom’s scientist father, had a dream of inventing the first time machine, and left his wife, Rebecca, with the burden of raising the family. Unfortunately, Rebecca died in a tragic hover car crash.

When Tom was old enough, Victor let him work in his lab, apprenticing him to one of his time-travelers, or “chrononauts,” Penelope. Penelope was quite passionate about her work; as a result, she was somewhat aloof while mentoring Tom. While Penelope and Tom worked together, Tom fell deeply in love with her. Penelope was slated to become the first person to time travel. The night before her journey, Tom professed his love to her. They slept together, and Tom got her pregnant, ruining her chances of becoming the first time traveler. Despairing that her life’s work was lost, Penelope committed suicide. Victor suspended the time-traveling program.

Distraught, Tom snuck into the lab and used the machine to travel back in time to the apartment in San Francisco where Goettreider first created a working model of his famous engine. Goettreider saw Tom and turned off his machine, generating an energy field that nearly destroyed the building. Tom turned the machine back on before it could cause more damage, then traveled back to his present. However, the world he returned to was nothing like his own: through Tom’s description of it, it becomes apparent that he arrived in the ordinary world of his readers, where technology is minimally evolved.

In this new world, which Tom has inhabited since the time-traveling disaster, his name is not Tom, but John Barren. His mother is still alive, and his father is a good parent. There are plenty of other differences in this world, both good and bad. Tom tracks down this world’s Penelope, a gentler and warmer Penelope than the one he once knew. They fall in love all over again, and Tom even convinces her that they once met in a different life.

Tom’s existence is again upended when the mind of John Barren tries to reclaim the body that Tom possessed upon moving to the new present. John is a sinister figure: when he gains physical control, he rapes Penny. While Tom wrestles to overcome John, Penny leaves, believing that Tom is schizophrenic. She demands evidence that he is a time traveler rather than a sick man concealing his disease.

Tom searches for Lionel Goettreider, hoping he will remember Tom’s arrival in his basement in 1965. Tom locates him in Hong Kong. Goettreider tells him that he has been expecting him. Deducing that Tom had drastically changed the course of history, he demands that Tom return to fix his mistake. Tom returns to 1965, hoping to observe Goettreider without making himself seen, and thus reopen the future of the technological renaissance. However, the second he arrives, several versions of him wrestle for control of his body. They include the Tom who initially traveled back in time; the Tom trying to fix things; John; and another Tom from a far-distant future who also discovered how to return. The narrator Tom, accepting that it is futile to overcome these competing minds, returns to his present. Though initially upset, Goettreider learns to embrace this reality. Tom, Goettreider, and Penny open a business together and rebuild Goettreider’s engine. At the end of the novel, Tom and Penny have a baby, signaling that their world has started to heal.