Amid the deluge of unreliable, devious narrators that compose so much of recent fiction, meet Tom Barren. He’s refreshingly truthful, completely forthright—and an abject failure. In the debut novel from Toronto author and screenwriter Elan Mastai, Tom would like to tell you how he screwed up the future.
Tom’s self-effacing memoir opens with a dose of physics, as our apologetic hero does his best to explain just how he got stuck in the “dank, grimy horror” that is our 2016. Tom is from an alternate reality, the kind of utopian future that Americans dreamed of in the 1950s. In this technological paradise, the groundbreaking Goettreider Engine uses the Earth’s rotation to power all of humanity. Below-average Tom might be a disappointment to his genius father, but things are generally pretty good for humankind in his 2016. That is, until—in a fit of rage, guilt and grief—Tom defiantly hops into the time machine his father has built and accidentally halts the creation of the Goettreider Engine.
Mastai’s utopian worldbuilding is complex and imaginative, but some of the book’s most memorable sections are when Tom attempts to navigate our “retrograde” world. Here, his family is different: His mother is still alive, his father is kind, and he has a sharp-witted sister. His love is different, and his failures are different. This isn’t your typical time-travel story where the wrong reality needs to be righted.
An entertaining rom-com of errors, All Our Wrong Todays backflips through paradoxes while exploring provocative questions of grief and the multitudes we contain within ourselves. Ultimately, it’s a story about love—and the stupid things we’ll do for it.