Thursday 1:17 PM
- By Michael Landweber
- Coffeetown Press
- 208 pp.
- Reviewed by Joe Dell’Erba
- July 4, 2016
What if time stopped for everyone but you?
Author Michael Landweber takes the overused advice “live in the moment” quite literally in his new novel, Thursday 1:17 PM, a tightly scripted and thoughtful tale of self-discovery in a world where the usual rules don’t apply and time doesn’t matter.
Life’s not treating 17-year-old Duck very well. His mother just passed away, his father is locked in a psych ward, the girl he shouldn’t love is stringing him along, and the girl he should love won’t speak to him. Worst of all, he’s a virgin one day shy of the all-too-important threshold of turning 18.
Yet Duck has even bigger problems: One moment he’s at an intersection, bemoaning life with an R.E.M. ballad blasting through his earbuds, and the next he’s walking among human statues frozen in time. See, time decided to call it quits before he did. An angry Mercedes driver remains glued to the wheel. A lady is forever doomed to walk her dog. Pedestrians stare with unreadable expressions, never to blink or smile again. Crowds of the most convincing mannequins cover Washington, DC’s, streets.
Somehow, only Duck remains unstuck. But why?
He sets out to find the answer, save humanity, and keep himself from going crazy like his old man did. But all that can wait until he’s explored his crush’s bedroom. Even in the end times, sex is constantly on this boy’s brain.
Thursday 1:17 PM is presented as part diary, part survival guide. Duck plays both the author and main character, with chapters relating his misadventures broken up by passages offering nuggets of advice directly to the reader (just in case you, too, find yourself trapped in a frozen world). How do you go to the bathroom without running water? What do you do without electricity or technology? How can a teen with hardly any life experience cope?
At first, Duck’s immaturity is eye-rolling and predictable. But there’s this underlying desperation and dread that paint him in a different light. Dry humor can only stave off panic and loneliness for so long. Suffice to say, Duck feels real. His actions are believable. Even though the novel technically takes place in one prolonged moment, his character experiences noticeable growth.
Details about his family and friends trickle out through flashbacks, reshaping how readers see Duck in the “present.” He fails, makes mistakes, and gets frustrated as his wits fray. And worst of all, there’s no one to turn to for help. Duck can only retreat further inward.
His musings on life, love, friendship, and time quickly turn from naïve and irreverent to profound and very dark. At the cusp of adulthood, he’s trapped between the warring aspects of boy and man, and he has to fight those psychological battles alone. It’s an interesting space to explore, one that is carried well throughout the novel.
The frozen world becomes a character, too. As Duck quickly realizes, stopping time doesn’t just stop the clock; physics and weather no longer behave as expected. Raindrops and airplanes are stuck in midair. The wind is eerily absent. Nothing makes a sound. Duck’s halfway-decent detective work reveals fascinating environmental details that help make a familiar setting unique and alien. This is where the novel shines, in taking what the reader knows so well and warping it, making a crowded city like DC barren and frightening.
Cause-and-effect and morality are also intrinsically connected to time’s becoming a non-issue. What happens when immediate consequences disappear? What kind of weird and dark desires stir? Duck experiences his fair share of temptation. Long after putting the book down, I keep revisiting these questions. Even though a few key details and questions go unexplained (some annoyingly so), the fact that I’m still reflecting is a mark of Landweber’s success.
The novel is not without its faults. The ending wraps up a bit too nicely and with very little fanfare. After seeing Duck through to the end, I was hoping for more of a payoff, rather than cutting straight to black. But the journey turned out to be much more important than the destination, and the ending didn’t diminish my enjoyment.
Bottom line? Thursday 1:17 PM has style — the immediate pull of a neat premise and an engaging, dynamic protagonist. It’s a slim page-turner of a novel that, like Duck’s adventure itself, you’ll devour in a single, memorable moment. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll need Duck’s timeless advice.
Joe Dell’Erba is a frequent reviewer at the Washington Independent Review of Books. As a fiction connoisseur and staunch supporter of House Stark, he’s on the lookout for any excuse to read and write creatively every day. You can find him on Twitter at @jtdelle (where he promises to be more active) or discuss the unequivocal joy of a good cup of coffee with him at email@example.com.