... if the time travel doesn’t always feel essential, if the formal structure doesn’t always justify itself, these are complaints at the margins of an engaging and ambitious novel. This is a messy, chaotic story about a messy, chaotic century. And after all, Wray never promised a self-contained theory of chrononavigation. For this reader, at least, a novel is a success if it causes time to warp, to bend and deform, if it breaks time apart and puts it back together again in an interesting way. John Wray does all of the above, with wide-ranging intelligence and boundless verbal energy.
The Lost Time Accidents is a feast, but not a glut, in part because its author leaves so much to the reader's deduction, both in terms of the book's central mystery and in the dense web of allusion and in-joke that decorates each page ... The book may involve 'the Gestapo, and the war, and the speed of light, and a card game no one plays anymore,' but it is really interested in simple emotional truths rather than complex scientific ones.
At times, the author’s belabored attempts at replicating the brain-freezing stylizations and vocabulary of kitschy science fiction become a drag on his otherwise fleet plotting. But his empathy for people with a finger’s grip on sanity galvanizes his tale with a liberating touch of crazy.
Wray's essentially attempting a tightrope-walk between the logical and the ludicrous, a balletic exploration of the meaning of time and memory and consciousness, that embraces both the science and the fantasy of it all. In this, he succeeds. It's the other parts of the book, the plot and characters, that lose their balance.
On the sentence level, the book is absolutely delightful. Quick-swipe descriptors of characters carry the sometimes exaggerative flair of Dickens. Waldy's musings throw the book into philosophical relief and keep it from teetering on too comical for its own good. The Lost Time Accidents crackles with exquisite impressions of eras long gone and close to home and is so immersive that it's sometimes difficult to pull yourself back to the real world.
...[a] clever, compelling novel ... It’s a great, complex pile-up of a plot, but Wray, one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007, is equal to it, juxtaposing Waldy’s personal history with that of his forebears with unfailing skill, and deftly keeping up in the air the question of whether the family’s story is one of magnificent obsession or mental illness. The writing is similarly rich, teeming with quirky detail and sometimes arcane references ... If the torrent of minutiae at times seems merely whimsical, it is more than compensated for by Wray’s skilful pacing, deadpan wit and vivid way with words ... Yet it’s hard to shake off a nagging suspicion that there is less at stake here than is warranted by the novel’s historic sweep.
Although the narrator’s witticisms and wry overtones lend it a comedic edge, at its heart, Wray’s novel is a tragedy. It is a book about loss, nostalgia, failure, and complicity in the horrors of history ... One can’t help but note that Wray has written a science fiction novel that lampoons science fiction. Self-effacing though this gesture may be, it can also be read as an attempt to keep The Lost Time Accidents outside of the genre ghetto in terms of its critical reception.
Some characters feel flat, and the story’s quirkiness can become grating. The science doesn’t make sense at times, and anyone without a firm grasp of physics will likely trip over the jargon. At 500 pages, the book is a dense read, too, with multiple twists across time and space that can feel disorienting. But the story is thrilling, full of intrigue and laced with a love story that takes hairpin turns ... It’s not a light read, but if the reader can keep from getting tripped up in the details and let the story sweep them away, The Lost Time Accidents proves to be a delightful escape.
Wray clearly delights in storytelling, using subtle hints and surprises that work together with devastating force, like primed explosives in a controlled demolition. But sometimes he tosses in inconsequential little firecrackers, fake twists that amount to nothing.
Wray makes palpable the pains and pleasures of lost time, the nagging tick of bad memories, the lag of the secondhand during moments of pure, unadulterated joy. These blips of insight are worth the sometimes gnarled chapters that separate them, and ultimately The Lost Time Accidents, with its meandering plot and lovingly flawed subjects, is a joy to get lost in.