An Ocean of Minutes has a premise to thrill. Polly and her boyfriend, Frank, are forced to separate in 1981 when he contracts a deadly flu virus that is sweeping the United States. A company called TimeRaiser offers a drastic option: A healthy person may travel to the future, when the flu has been cured, and the sick person in the present is then treated. This comes at a hefty price and a contractual agreement to work for TimeRaiser for a set number of months or years. Polly and Frank are so much in love that Polly decides to risk everything to travel forward 12 years, at which time she and Frank plan to reunite and have the family they’ve been dreaming of.
A clear portrayal of their backstory is essential for the reader to hope that Frank and Polly reunite. The years-long romance is presented in cinematic vignettes. While Polly is not the most compelling woman to grace the pages of literature, the reader still shares in her heartbreak as she learns the devastating truth about the future, which has become her present. Without her knowledge or consent, she is rerouted five additional years into the future, landing her in 1998, while Frank is supposed to look for her in 1993. The United States and America are now two separate countries, and a border separates the couple. Every man she comes across in the future takes advantage of her. The most unsettling discovery of all is that while it took her only a few minutes to travel more than a decade, Frank, now in his 40s, has been living, growing and changing without her.
One of Lim’s greatest successes in her debut novel (her novella The Same Woman was published in 2007) is creating a future that is so completely imbued with bureaucratic nonsense that it as maddening as it is believable. TimeRaiser becomes its own character—one that perhaps rivals the protagonist for nuance.