You Can’t Kill Time

A Joycean new novel follows a single day in the life of a wandering writer.


Time Is the Fire by Alfred Alcorn

Published by Pleasure Boat Studio, 207 pages, $17

Leopold Bloom O’Boyle, the hero of Harvard alum Alfred Alcorn’s ninth novel, walks in the footprints of James Joyce’s Ulysses character, roaming through 1992 Cambridge instead of turn-of-the-century Dublin. His consciousness streams colorfully as he walks past dozens of familiar places—The Coop, The Tasty—pondering the novel he’s trying to write. Leo justifies his avoidance of actual writing by replacing the pen with the lusciousness of his thoughts and observations about real people, often poets, living and dead.

Time is Leo’s frenemy—he’s simultaneously fearing it, wasting it, luxuriating in it and enslaved to it as he mulls not only his always-in-the-works novel, but the pregnancy of his wife, the Rev. Annabel Chance. To become parents or not, that is the question, and here there’s no two ways about time’s power. Their baby’s nine months in utero have begun; the alternative procedure, equally time-sensitive, hovers ominously. Thoughts of his dead Joyce-loving father and worries about his aging mother only add to his fervent wonderings about parenthood.

The extraordinary musings of Leo—and Alcorn—require readers to suspend expectations of a linear plot. The story’s curly style reflects the way we live our daily lives, roaming loosely through our thoughts, though we must also obey the strict tick-tocking reality of the clock.

From page 66: The problem with ransacking the future, another Nabokov phrase—quite aside from the inconvenient truth that every future leads but to the grave—was that such ransacking vitiated the present, this right now, this breath, this blink, this spasm of spending. Which is all we have. Because where does the time go? Not into some handy bag. You can’t ransack the past, but we all try.

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