An ingenious, dystopian novel of one young woman’s resistance against the constraints of an oppressive society, from the inventive imagination of Joyce Carol Oates “Time travel” — and its hazards—are made literal in this astonishing new novel in which a recklessly idealistic girl dares to test the perimeters of her tightly controlled (future) world and is punished by being sent back in time to a region of North America — “Wainscotia, Wisconsin”—that existed eighty years before. Cast adrift in time in this idyllic Midwestern town she is set upon a course of “rehabilitation”—but cannot resist falling in love with a fellow exile and questioning the constrains of the Wainscotia world with results that are both devastating and liberating.
Arresting and visionary, Hazards of Time Travel is both a novel of harrowing discovery and an exquisitely wrought love story that may be Joyce Carol Oates’s most unexpected novel so far.
Oates's eerie dystopian novel (following Beautiful Days) is set both in New Jersey circa 2039 and in Wisconsin in 1959. In 2039, 17-year-old Adriane Strohl, who narrates, is to be her graduating class's valedictorian. Doing well in school is encouraged, but doing too well can get you noticed by the authorities in the "True Democracy" of the North American States (NAS), where equality is nominally espoused though not truly enacted (people of color and women are given decidedly short shrift). After Adriane's outspoken commencement speech, she's arrested by Homeland Security for treason and ultimately cast out of modern society and teleported to 1959 Wisconsin, where she's to attend Wainscotia State University as Mary Ellen Enright and be reeducated in the hope that she can eventually return to her own time. She's told she will be under constant surveillance and must never reveal her true identity. There, she becomes convinced that her psychology instructor, Dr. Ira Wolfman, is a fellow exile. As she falls for Wolfman, she begins to question everything about the restrictive world she left. Oates weaves a feeling of constant menace and paranoia throughout as Adriane struggles to remember her old life and adjust to her new one. The conclusion is surprising and ambiguous, leaving readers to question their own perception of events, making for a memorable novel.