An Ocean Of Minutes by Thea LimAn Ocean Of Minutes by Thea Lim

An Ocean Of Minutes

byThea Lim

Paperback | June 26, 2018

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about

Shortlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize

An unforgettable love story of two people who are at once mere weeks and many years apart, for readers of Station Eleven.


America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan. Time travel has been invented; if she signs up for a one-way trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.
     But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a terrifying new world to find Frank, to discover if he is alive, and to see if their love has endured.
     An Ocean of Minutes is a gorgeous, devastating novel about courage, yearning, the cost of holding onto the past--and the price of letting it go.
THEA LIM's writing has been published by the Southampton Review, the Guardian, Salon, the Millions, Bitch magazine, Utne Reader, and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.
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Title:An Ocean Of MinutesFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.2 × 5.66 × 0.87 inPublished:June 26, 2018Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0735234914

ISBN - 13:9780735234918

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was okay ... It is 1980 and Polly and Frank live in Buffalo and are in love. They decide to take a road trip to New Orleans, however, a wrong turn ends up with them landing in Galveston, Texas. When they left Buffalo, they had no idea what the next few days would have in store for them. An accident at a disease control agency leads to a deadly virus pandemic that infects not only the United States, but most of the world in a matter of days. Soon Frank is sick and while there is a vaccine available for everyone, it is not very effective and only the wealthy or people with good health care plans actually get access to the vaccine that has any possibility of working. Frank is not wealthy and has no health care but Polly is desperate to save him so she agrees to time travel to 1993 through a corporation called Time Raiser. Frank doesn’t want Polly to go, however, she convinces him that it is the only way that he has a chance of surviving and they make a plan to meet at the Houston International Airport on September 4, 1993 with a backup plan of meeting at the Flagship Hotel in Galveston on any Saturday in September if the airport meet-up doesn’t work. Immediately there are problems with Polly’s time travel. Unbeknownst to her, the date of her arrival has been changed from 1993 to 1998. This would mean that Frank would be 18 years older (and presumably healthy if the vaccine worked) but in reality Polly would only be an hour or two older (the time that it took to time travel). It also meant that Frank would have no idea that she wouldn’t appear again until 1998. When Polly gets to 1998, she is still in Galveston, however, it is nothing like she remembers. Eighteen years have passed and the city has gone through the pandemic. The United States is now divided into two separate countries with the northern part, including Buffalo, being the United States and the southern section, including Texas, being America. Not only has 18 years passed for Frank, but Polly isn’t even in the same country now as Frank or her aunt Donna who helped raise Polly. By accepting the terms of time travel from Time Raiser, Polly has agreed to work for the corporation for a given number of months in order to pay off her debt for the cost of the time travel and Frank’s medical care. Life in 1998 America, however, is not what she thought it would be. Galveston, along with most of the cities in America are decimated in that there have been no workers to keep services operating so bridges have collapsed, water systems no longer work, highways and streets are still congested from car accidents that happened over a decade ago and power can be non-existent in certain areas of the city. Throughout Polly’s struggle to get through each day, her hope to meet up with Frank becomes harder to hang onto. I think the author did a really good job with the concept of the time travel aspect of this book, but I found the descriptions of 1998 America quite depressing to read and I didn’t enjoy that part of the book. I also wasn’t overly happy with the ending.
Date published: 2018-09-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disturbing The description of the book sounded interesting and intriguing. The plot was good, but the delivery was just not refined enough for me to enjoy it. It took me a long time to get into the story and once I was in it, it fell short. The relationship between Polly and Frank was disturbing. Personally, I would have ended such a needy relationship, but this is not me... It is fiction and anything can happen in a book. It just makes it hard for the reader when he or she cannot relate to the story. I read it all none-the-less and I hope that this will not be the last book from this new author. She has potential and can only improve as she continues writing.
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Unique and Real Dystopian Whenever I use the term "existential crisis" in a review, it's guaranteed that the book is pretty darn good. Well, in my opinion anyway. That is the case for this one because if there was a time for an existential crisis, it would have been while reading this book. Going into reading this, I didn't really know what it was about aside from time travel (which is in the summary, I'm not giving anything away). After reading, I would say it's kind of similar to "The Time Traveler's Wife" and the movie "About Time" with an extra bonus dystopian element. Romance, time travel, contagious disease, and a dystopian world.....sounds interesting doesn't it? This novel also read very raw and real. Sometimes the story came across as believable, whether it be because of the unpredictable nature of the world or because of our current political climate. Either way, the idea of this novel being reality was terrifying in all accounts. Even though I did read this book in the span of two days, I wouldn't necessarily say it was a 'quick read'. It had a lot of serious content within that really made me stop and think. Thus, the existentialism of the novel. It really had me thinking about life and death along with the length of time each individual has between both. Additionally, even after the ending, I continue to wonder how the story went on for both of the main characters. A sequel isn't needed and could cause detriment to the original novel but the ending does end in a way that left me questions. With that being said, I think the ending was intentionally meant to end that way in which the reader draws their own conclusions. Overall, I definitely enjoyed this novel and I hope that one day it possibly is made into a movie. It is a story that I would love to see adapted. ***I received this novel from a Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you to Goodreads and the publisher for hosting this giveaway.***
Date published: 2018-08-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn't bring myself to finish it... I'm rarely unable to finish a book - however this is one of them. Thoughts and sentences were quite disjointed and many paragraphs lacked any cohesive concepts. There was far too many description and unnecessary back story. A book about the future should be exciting, not droning about the past. While I cared for the main character, I didn't feel enough for her to want her to escape. I gave this read 2/5 stars instead of 1/5 because the theme of immigration was strong. Polly is an immigrant in the future and was mislead by her previous country, the past. This theme is what births care for Polly. Overall, this is not what I expected and was very difficult to read in terms of cohesion.
Date published: 2018-08-13

Read from the Book

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Interconti­nental Airport. At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility. People used to be apprehensive about airline travel too. But when you arrive at the airport, it is not the same at all. Before you can get within a mile of the terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo. A quarantine taxi makes its way to that lone bus stop, the airport appearing through a million chain-link diamonds. The driver is encased in an oval of hermetically sealed Plexiglas. In the back seat, Frank is wearing a yellow hazmat suit. The colour marks him as infected. Now is the time for last words, but Polly’s got nothing. Frank keeps nodding off and then snapping awake, stiff-spined with terror, until he can locate her beside him. “We can still go back!” He has been saying this for days. Even in his sleep he carries on this argument, and when he opens his eyes, he moves seamlessly from a dream fight to a waking one. Already his voice is far off, sealed away inside his suit. She pulls his forehead to her cheek, but his mask stops her short. They can only get within three inches of each other. The suit rubs against the vinyl car seat and makes a funny, crude noise, but they don’t laugh. Polly would like to breathe in the smell of Frank’s skin one last time, a smell like salt cut with something sweet, like when it rains in the city. But all she gets is the dry smell of plastic. The news outlets went down weeks ago, but that didn’t stop the blitz of ads for the Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative: billboards painted on buildings, posters wheat-pasted over empty storefronts, unused mailboxes stuffed with mailers. there is no flu in 2002 and travel to the future and rebuild america and no skills necessary! training provided! At first the ads were like a joke, gallows humour for people who were stranded once the credit companies went down and the state borders were closed to stop the flu’s spread, people like Polly and Frank, who got trapped in Texas by accident. Later, the ads made Frank angry. He would tear the pamphlets from the mailboxes and throw them on the ground, muttering about opportunism. “You know they don’t market this to the rich,” he’d say, and then an hour later, he’d say it again. They stayed indoors except for the one day a week when they travelled to the grocery store, which had been commandeered by five army reservists who doled out freeze-dried goods to ragged shoppers. The reservists had taken it upon themselves to impose equal access to the food supply, partly out of good­ness and partly out of the universal desperation for something to do. One day, the glass doors were locked. A handwritten sign said to go around the back. The soldiers were having a party. With their rifles still strapped on, they were handing out canned cocktail wieners, one per person, on candy-striped paper dessert plates that looked forlorn in their huge hands. Ted, the youngest, a boy from Kansas who had already lost his hair, was leaving for a job in the future. He was going to be an independent energy contractor. There was another sign, bigger and in the same writing, on the back wall: 2000 here we come! It was a rare, happy thing, the soldiers and the shoppers in misfit clothes, standing around and smiling at each other and nibbling on withered cocktail sausages. But just that morning, the phone had worked for five minutes and they got a call through to Frank’s brothers, only to be told it had been weeks since the landlord changed the locks to Frank’s apartment, back in Buffalo. The landlord was sympathetic to Frank’s pre­dicament, but he could no longer endure the absence of rent. “But what about my stereo?” Frank had said. “What about my records? What about Grandpa’s butcher knife?” His voice was small, then smaller, as he listed off everything that was now gone. Frank was usually the life of the party, but that afternoon behind the grocery store, he picked on a pinch-faced woman, muttering at her, “Why don’t they stop the pandemic, then? If they can time travel, why don’t they travel back in time to Patient Zero and stop him from coughing on Patient One?” “They tried.” The woman spoke with her mouth full. “The earliest attainable destination date is June of ’81. Seven months too late.” “What? Why? How can that be?” This clumsy show of anger was new. Frank was normally charming. He was the one who did the talking. Later, his sudden social frailty would seem like a warning of the sickness that arrived next. It unsettled Polly, and she was slow to react. But the woman didn’t need someone to intervene. “That’s the limit of the technology. It took until the end of ’93 to per­fect the machine, and twelve years is the farthest it can jump. Or to be precise, four thousand one hundred and ninety-eight days is the farthest it can jump. Do you live under a rock?” The tips of Frank’s ears pinked and Polly should have made a joke, offered comfort. But she was distracted. In that second, it stopped being a fiction. Time travel existed, and the plates of her reality were shifting. She felt a greasy dread in the centre of her chest. She wanted to drop her food and take Frank’s hand and anchor him in the crook of her arm, as if he were in danger of being blown away. Now they are pulling up to the lone bus stop, and they can see the new time-travel facility across the lot bisected by trol­leys. The facility is a monolith, the widest, tallest building either of them has ever seen, and something primal in Polly quails. The only thing remaining of familiar airport protocol is the logistical thoughtlessness of the curb: once you reach it, the line of unfeeling motorists waiting behind you means only seconds to say goodbye. “You don’t have to go,” Frank says. “Say something else. Say something different.” Polly is smiling and shaking her head, an echo of some long-ago courting coy­ness that once existed between them. It has landed here, in the wrong place entirely, but she can’t get control of her face. “You don’t have to go,” he says again in his faraway voice, unable to stop. Polly can only muster short words. “It’s okay. We’ll be together soon. Don’t worry.” The sole way Polly was able to convince Frank to let her go was through Ted, the reservist from Kansas. He and his buddies had a plan to meet in 2000. They had chosen a place and every­thing. “We can do the same,” she said to Frank. “I’ll ask for the shortest visa, I’ll ask for a five-year visa.” It was a setback when she got to the TimeRaiser office and they offered minimum twelve-year visas. But still he would meet her, on September 4th, 1993, at Houston Intercontinental Airport. “What if you’re rerouted?” he asked. He had heard about this from another patient, who heard about it from a cousin, who knew someone who worked at the facility, who said they could change your year of destination, while you were in mid-flight. Polly said reroutements were a rumour, a myth. Why would they send you to a time totally other than the one you signed for? That would be like buying a ticket to Hawaii and winding up in Alaska. But to calm him, she came up with a back-up plan. If something went wrong and either of them couldn’t make it, then the first Saturday in September, they’d go to the Flagship Hotel in Galveston, until they find one another. “Not just the first,” he said. “Every Saturday, every September.” This was over­kill, a lack of good faith, but he was distraught, so she gave in. And if the Flagship Hotel is gone, they’ll meet on the beach by its footprint. Even if between now and ’93, aliens invade and the cities are crumbled and remade, the land will still end where the sea begins at the bottom of Twenty-Fifth Street. Still he is not satisfied. He puts his head back. His skin is so grey and drawn that it looks about to flake off, and it’s as if the brown is fading from his hair. When Polly speaks again, it sounds like when she is drunk and trying to conceal it, enunci­ating each of her words, a single phrase requiring maximal con­centration: “If I don’t go, you will die.”

Bookclub Guide

This reading group guide for An Ocean of Minutes includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Thea Lim. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.  IntroductionIn 1981, a vicious strain of the flu virus has swept across America and the only treatment available costs more than many can afford. With the advent of time travel, there is the option of traveling to the future as a migrant worker, to pay for a loved one’s treatment. When Polly’s boyfriend Frank becomes sick, Polly is willing to do anything to save him, and agrees to travel to Texas in 1993 to work for his cure.  While Frank and Polly plan to meet each other, and pick up where they left off, when Polly arrives, Frank is nowhere to be found. Polly learns she has been rerouted to 1998, and finds a world drastically different from her own. With no friends or family, no money, and no citizen status, Polly is indentured by  TimeRaiser, the company who recruited her, until she can pay off her debt. But Polly will do anything to find Frank and build the future they’d imagined, rather than the one she’s found.  Topics & Questions for Discussion  1. At the start of the novel, we join a 23-year-old Polly as she is about to make a massive sacrifice to save her boyfriend’s life. As the novel goes on, we know that Frank has a family with parents and siblings, but it is Polly who loses 12 years of her life to save him. At what stage does someone else’s life become our responsibility? To what lengths are we expected, explicitly or implicitly, to use self-sacrifice to help those we love? Is this expectation greater for men or women?  2. Frank manages to slip a photograph into Polly’s bra before she leaves, but upon finding it, Polly tears it up because she’s enraged that “Frank believed they needed props, aids, to remember each other.” Do you believe this is why Frank included the photograph? Did he already sense that they would lose each other? What other purpose can photographs serve? Why do you believe that photographs aren’t able to survive the time travel process in the novel? 3. Much of Polly’s appreciation of her time with Frank and her desperation to return to him stem from the loss of her mother. How does the death of a parent or loved one affect her perception of time and the future? Do you think she would still have volunteered to travel to the future to save Frank if her mother hadn’t died?   4. Baird’s character offers a counterpoint to Polly’s during her first few weeks in 1998, as he demonstrates what life might have been like had she not volunteered to sacrifice 12 years for Frank. Even though Polly and Frank do not end up together at the end of the novel, does Baird’s example prove that Polly still made the right decision? Was there any other decision that Polly could have made? 5. After Baird sets Polly up, Polly realizes that “she had lost the luxury of rage.” What does it mean to be able to have or express rage? Who in our society has that luxury? Are there other moments in the text when we see rage being enacted? What are the consequences? 6. TimeRaiser resembles many of the corporations in our world today. While it uses the technology of time travel to promote itself and gain power, it uses other techniques as well. What vulnerabilities of the people in the novel does TimeRaiser exploit for capital? What techniques does it use to do so? How much of this is dependent on technologies and how much is independent? 7. TimeRaiser’s mission and the structure of migrant labor in the piece mimic our present society and immigration. Despite the text taking place in an alternate future, many of the world’s prejudices and faults remain the same. What kind of things are universal throughout time? Can they ever change if human nature remains the same? 8. Once Polly is demoted to H-I status she notices more people mistake her for being Hispanic. Cookie comments that “you looked white until you went broke.” To what extent is Polly still an O-I worker, despite being given an H-I status? The text tells us that one way to acquire O-I status is to have experience in desired professions. Do you think it’s easier for some demographics than others to qualify for O-1 status? 9. When Polly asks Norberto what he’s imagining on page 211, he responds, “The same place. But a different time…I guess that makes it a different place.” To what extent is a place dependent on its time? Is it possible for a place, a person, or a relationship to remain the same after five years? Ten? Why or why not? 10. In the climactic scene between Polly and Norberto when he attacks her he claims, “I have no choice. If I do this, I’m free.” Later, Norberto feels guilty for his actions and so pays to free Polly from her commitment to TimeRaiser. What kind of action could really free Polly or Norberto from their situations? What actually defines autonomy? Is it possible for either of them to really be free? What is really constraining them? 11. While most of the novel is written in past tense, the memories of 1981 and before are written in the present tense. Why do you think the chronologically present-day events are written as having occurred in the past, while the flashbacks are portrayed as currently happening? What might it say about Frank and Polly’s relationship? About our relationships with those we love in general? 12. Polly and Frank spend a lot of their time discussing “next times”. But their trip to Washington D.C., where they acknowledge the limited time we all have, reveals their underlying understanding of how vulnerable these future imaginings are. What is so dazzling about the promise of a “next time”? Why do Polly and Frank continue to construct these futures, even after it’s clear they may not occur?  13. After finally finding her way back to Frank, Polly proclaims that, “Buffalo is gone.” Do you agree with this statement? What kind of loss is defined by lost time? When something has changed, to what extent is it “gone”? Can it ever be regained? 14. In the final pages of the novel, Polly comes to terms with the fact that what she and Frank had shared is over. This realization is tied to her realization that, “that scent, Frank’s smell, the rain and the sweetness, was gone.” When something, such as their relationship, ends, is it also gone? How does the novel’s understanding of alternative futures and timelines complicate this notion?     Enhance Your Book Club  1. When Polly prepares to travel to the future, she packs light, taking only a set of baseball cards. While they might increase in monetary value, her real motivation for bringing them is because “they have the synecdochical magic of a beloved’s beloved.” Ask everyone to bring one object that they would take with them to the future. Then, try to explain the object’s “thing biography”. Where did it come from? Who did it belong to? Why is it important to you now, and why would it be even more important in the future? 2. As Polly works for her freedom in the future America, she remembers key moments in her and Frank’s relationship: their first date, the time he rescued her mother’s furniture, her first night in Worcester, their trip to Washington D.C., etc. Make a list of your top three “snapshot” memories. Who shared them with you? Where (and when) did they take place? What are the little details about these moments that you remember most? Why do you think they mean so much to you? 3. After finding her way back to Buffalo, Polly is desperate to get her hands on photographs of the Buffalo she remembers from 1981. Have everyone bring in photographs of themselves or their hometowns from at least 12 years ago and discuss what’s changed. Some things will be obvious – the clothes, the hair – but some things may be more subtle. Are the restaurants you frequented over a decade ago still there? What have they become? What does that say about how the place and people who lived there have changed on a more foundational level?    A Conversation with Thea Lim   Q: This novel skillfully engages with a myriad of themes, both timely and timeless. Was there a primary question or theme that you were interested in exploring at the outset? How did that grow or change?  A: The idea I started from was that very human thing, where we know that everyone and everything we love will eventually either die or leave us, and yet we love anyway. So, very cheerful stuff.  But I knew too that I wanted to write a plot-driven novel. I had to find a way to animate grief – which is static and not plot-driven at all – so it was a bit of a puzzler. As a joke, I came up with the idea of time travel, because someone who is bereaved is stuck in the past. What if I actually stuck a character in the past? Very quickly, sending characters to the past created all sorts of sticky paradoxes, which didn’t help me to tell my story. So I stuck my character in the future. That’s when things came together: it turned into a time travel novel about the passage of time itself – its terrible, relentless self. That’s not to say that from there, everything was easy (it was not, it was awful) but at least I knew where I was going.  Q: If you were given Polly’s choice in the world you created, would you choose to travel 12 years into the future to save Frank? A: Aha! A taste of my own medicine. This reminds me of one of the first times I described the plot of my (as-yet-unwritten) novel to a friend, and she said, oh man, why wouldn’t you just stay and die? I’ve been lucky enough to never experience the kind of deprivation that forces someone into such a decision. That makes it very hard to imagine what I’d do.  But here’s a related thought: in zombie apocalypse movies, the camera always follows the people who are fighting to survive, but the people who choose to die – maybe as a way to feel a sense of control over their own destiny and humanity? – are just as interesting. Hmm. Maybe that’s what the next novel will be about.    Q: If you were to travel 12 years through time as Polly does at the beginning of the story, what three items would you bring and why?  A: My passport so I can prove who I was (or am), a picture of my daughter the day she was born, maybe some Bitcoin?   Q: Despite its universal themes, An Ocean of Minutes tells the specific story of Polly’s experience, which is dependent on her identity as a white, female American who has a specialized skillset. Why did you create her as the lens through which to investigate a future America? How do you think your experience in the world you’ve created might differ from Polly’s? A: Many immigrants have all sorts of privilege in their home countries – economic, educational, linguistic, ethnic – but in their new countries, they experience an erosion of status that happens both all at once and slowly, over years. Having Polly be white – or rather, white-passing, since she’s actually a mixed race Arab woman – enabled me to explore these speeds of decline. At first, Polly keeps trying to assert her privilege. She can’t keep up with the new world order. And her lack of smarts about where she fits on the ladder – how powerless and vulnerable she is – causes her to fall farther down. But once she accepts her position, she tries to keep her head down, as a way to keep herself safe. (Another story idea: how keeping your head down can be an act of heroism.) Then eventually, this goes beyond acceptance, and she begins to feel great kinship with the other H-1 women, and leaving them behind is something that haunts her.  Immigration has shaped my own life possibly more than any other force, but I didn’t want to write autobiography. Writing about migrants from another time, instead of another place, was a suitable cover. But though I tried to escape memoir, it’s true that like Polly, I’m mixed race. And like many mixed race people, I’ve had the disorienting experience of discovering I’m read as one race in one place (for example, East Asian in North America) and a different race in another (for example, white in Southeast Asia.) Considering this slipperiness of identity, it’s tricky to predict how I’d experience 1998’s Galveston! I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake as her, assuming I can easily map the mores and power structures of an unknown place.   Q: While An Ocean of Minutes is a book that deals with future time travel, you chose to locate your characters in the past context of the 1980s and 1990s. What was the importance of these particular periods in time for you? What did they do that another period or a future, imagined time could not?  Nostalgia is a big theme in the story. I wondered if I could evoke nostalgia in the reader too, so they could “feel” along with Polly, Norberto, Cookie and Baird. Setting the book in the past and inflecting the story with cultural markers of our near-history, was a way to do this. An obvious observation: the invention that defines our current era is the internet. So I chose one of the last moments before the internet’s total takeover: the end of the 20th Century. There’s another reason why I set the novel in the (alternate) past. Early drafts were set in the future, and my guinea pig readers immediately assumed I was writing that kind of dystopia that aims to offer a prediction of what’s to come.  But the working conditions the Journeymen endure are not a prediction, or something I imagined; they’re based on the way things are for migrant workers today, worldwide. By setting the novel in the past, I hoped to plant the realization that these abuses are already happening.  In truth, my book is an inverse-dystopia: the real world is the dystopia, not my story. The world is already full enough of suffering, so as a writer I choose to make the plot only as harrowing as needs to be, for the story to get where it’s going. So many real-life stories are far more stomach-churning than anything that happens to my characters. If you are curious to learn more, there are many amazing organizations who advocate for these workers, who are amongst the most marginalized people in the world. To name just a few: Positive Negatives, the World Justice Project, and Justicia for Migrant Workers.   Q: While creating this world, what influenced your decisions about how the “future” America would look? Is there another version of a future America centered around different contemporary issues that interests you? A: Like anyone, I have moments of wanting to control everything in my life, but the best way to ruin a story is to be controlling: trust me, I’ve tried it, many times. So as I was writing this book, I didn’t work from any particularly ideology or vision, other than that idea about love and grief. My approach was to try to follow a trail, rather than force a path. I started with grief, and then hopscotched to time travel, which got me into migrant work, which led to displacement, and of course love and what it means to love, underpinned the whole journey. The splitting of America rose organically out of the needs of the plot: there had to be a number of obstacles between Polly and Frank. But it made sense in light of American history, and now, I’m sad to say, it also echoes our actual present. One thing I’ve been fixated on lately is how technology has vastly reconfigured our physical lives, but it isn’t clear how it has affected our emotional lives. Is the way we love different now, because of technology? Applications like Skype or WhatsApp enable us to keep in constant contact with distant loved ones. But has that truly changed anything? Many migrant workers are mothers separated from young children. Is that separation easier to bear now than it used to be, or is there something essential about that suffering that can never be eased, by anything?  In a separate and maybe opposite thought: technology makes it impossible to forget. You can’t lose touch with people anymore, because of Facebook. We get non-stop notifications from our photo apps beseeching us to “Remember This Day” with a photo collage from last Tuesday. I’m exaggerating, but I do wonder how technology mediates our relationship to the past.  So I speculate about other future Americas, where these kinds of interpersonal technologies have been around long enough to perceptibly alter our relationships.   Q: Some of the most striking passages in the novel are the present-tense memories describing Polly and Frank’s relationship. What was the appeal of writing these temporally past tense moments in the present tense, compared to the past tense narration of a more present moment? A: Anyone who has lost someone can recognize that sensation where the past feels more present than the now. As Norberto says about Marta, “everything that’s happened since, I can’t believe it’s real.” Writing those moments in the present tense was a way of freckling the text with Polly’s ardent desire to make “then” her “now.”  But that way of living isn’t sustainable. You miss so much when you insist on staying in an imaginary “now.” And so when Polly finally finds a way to live within reality, when she gets a job at the library, “the more present moment” returns to present tense.  Q: TimeRaiser, unfortunately, doesn’t feel too futuristic when considering many of the corporations that dictate our world today. To what extent can we, like the characters in your novel, hope to be autonomous individuals in the face of such influence? What do you believe everyone can do to in some way remain autonomous?  A: Here’s one thought: for sure corporations may not control where we live, what we eat and how we access our pay, but corporate influence infiltrates our lives at every level. Learn about the process through which the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the books you read, came into your house. Don’t go along with processes that compromise your moral being.  And here’s another thought: it’s very hard to live a good life when you’re inundated by the pressures of just getting by. Maybe you are a parent with small children, maybe you are living with a chronic illness, maybe you are facing structural barriers that drain the colour right out of your dreams, maybe you are living in a city where you can hardly afford a place to live. Just as my novel suggests that rage is a luxury, the autonomy provided by a purely moral life is perhaps also a luxury. So if you have that luxury, take advantage of it.  But if you don’t: something that is free is taking time to reflect on your “me-ness.” At one of her lowest points, Polly focuses on what makes her feel human: a cup of coffee with Norberto at the end of the day. It’s a tiny space that is wholly hers. So admire your toes in the shower. When you’re on the bus in a traffic jam, be the only one to see how branches move, nearly imperceptibly, in the wind. Rub the skin of a lemon. It’s not much, but it’s what we’ve got.   Q: Your novella, The Same Woman, deals with a woman coming to terms with her tumultuous relationship with another woman. How was the experience of writing a novel focused around a romantic relationship between and man and a woman different? Do you see anything in common between the two projects? A: The two projects are opposites in a sense, because I started my novella with a very clear idea of what it should say about life, and I judged my characters: some of them were doing life the right way, and some of them were doing life the wrong way, and I used them as cautionary examples for the reader. I don’t write that way anymore. It’s a bad idea to start writing knowing exactly what you want to say, and to hew to that, no matter what. We don’t wake up in the morning knowing exactly what the day will bring, so any story that is conceived in such a single-minded way will fail to capture how it feels to be alive.   I used to think that the role of the writer was to make the world better. But I no longer believe that art is the best place for arguments about what constitutes better or worse. While such certainty has its place in nonfiction, in fiction it saps the life out of things. Now I think the role of the writer is to show us as truthfully and completely what a particular way of living is like, and then leave it up to the reader to decide what’s right or wrong. When I realized my responsibility was different than what I thought it was, my writing got a lot better.   Q: In the novel, Polly returns to Buffalo only to find that the Buffalo she knew was gone. Has there been an important place in your life that you feel has disappeared over time? What do you remember most about this place and what has changed?  A: That section of the novel is perhaps the most autobiographical (dang, you got me). It’s inspired by my return visits to Singapore, where I grew up. Every time I go back to Singapore, it’s a small trauma. Once, after I’d been gone three or four years, I exited the subway to the street, and I had to turn around and check and re-check that I had gotten off at the right stop. The neighbourhood had been scrubbed so totally that I didn’t know where I was. What is most disorienting for me there is that the shape of the streets has actually changed. It’s technically the same space but a different place, and I can’t even find the contours of the space.   Q: As a teacher and an editor, you’re familiar with looking critically at other writers’ work as well as developing your own. What piece of advice do you think is most useful but under-utilized by young, aspiring writers? A: As a young writer, a piece of advice that changed everything for me – once I could finally hear it – was the notion that you can trust your writing, and trust your reader. I spent so much time appending explanations to descriptions, characters, events, and dialogue in my stories, to ensure that nothing was misinterpreted. I missed that the point of storytelling is, how folks interpret something is out of the writer’s control: that’s where the magic is. There are days where it’s still a struggle to relinquish control, to just let the things speak for themselves, to open up that space for the reader to come in. I guess that fear of being misunderstood is my migrant heritage! Q: This novel is particularly astonishing for its seamless intermixing of multiple genres. Is there a kind of genre that you haven’t engaged with much before that you would be interested in writing? Any other hybrid genres that you think produce opportunities for you?  A: Detective novels! I really want to write mystery. Poirot is my guy. And I think I should try to write something funny. I figure I owe everyone, after this one. 

Editorial Reviews

Advance praise for AN OCEAN OF MINUTES:A Chatelaine "18 Buzzy Books Everyone Will Be Talking About This Summer" selectionOne of Maclean's "15 books you should read this summer"One of cbc.ca’s "8 Canadian books we can’t wait to read in June" selectionA Loan Stars Top 10 pick by Canadian librarians for June 2018One of cbc.ca’s “8 Canadian speculative fiction reads to check out this summer” One of Entertainment Weekly's "10 prescient feminist dystopias to read after The Handmaid's Tale"One of Bustle’s 11 New Books To Read When It's Way Too Hot To Go Outside“Amidst the breathtaking world Thea Lim has created in An Ocean of Minutes is a profound meditation on the inhumanity of class and the limits of love. It takes immense talent to render cruelty both accurately and with honest beauty—Lim has pulled it off. This is a story about the malleability of time, but at its core lives something timeless.” —Omar El Akkad, author of American War“An Ocean of Minutes offers that rare combination of a provocative speculative setting, masterfully elegant writing, and a story that moves and haunts long after the last page. Thea Lim is an enormously talented writer.” —David Chariandy, author of Brother and Soucouyant“A strikingly imaginative time-travel story unlike anything I’ve ever read, rich with pinpoint emotional insight and fierce, vivid observations about a future that’s already our past.” —Elan Mastai, author of All Our Wrong Todays"An Ocean of Minutes is a time machine into the future of this moment. Gripping and graceful, it's dystopian love story as told by a visionary. . . . Reads like the birth of a legend.” —Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day and Pym"A buoyant, compelling tale ranging from the everyday beauty of falling in love to a frightening vision of a dystopian present day. Ms. Lim's imagination is boundless and dynamic. . . . A truly unique story." —Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters "The novel oscillates between the present and future--a jarring juxtaposition that's equally touching and heartbreaking. . . . Lim's writing shines brightest when she's ruminating on time, memory, and love. . . . A beautiful debut exploring how time, love, and sacrifice are never what they seem to be." —Kirkus"Lim’s enthralling novel succeeds on every level: as a love story, an imaginative thriller, and a dystopian narrative." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)“The premise Lim sets up here allows for the most multifaceted examination of time’s value. Time is Polly and Frank’s shared past and the promise of a shared future…The tragedy that the people we love don’t get to live forever is the subject of some of our oldest stories. And also, it seems, our stories of the future.” —The Globe and Mail“The clear-eyed, evocative writing here is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, and anyone familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale will find resonance in these pages. Similarly, Lim draws on the New CanLit, tapping into its energetic focus on social justice, using fiction to probe our contemporary reality — in all its staggering inequality. . . . [Lim] comes into her own here, with prose that’s elegant and haunting, somehow managing to be both unsentimental and deeply moving at the same time. A devastating debut.” —Toronto Star  “Thea Lim’s beautiful debut novel . . . is a deep dive into personal longing, political turmoil and time travel. . . . A heartbreaking page turner that delves into issues of race, class, labour and how to live with the passage of time.” —NOW magazine “There’s so much going on this book, including passages of wondrous prose and attempts to answer the question of where love goes when it’s over. . . . . [I] was so impressed by the extent of the allegory, about race and gender, migration, capitalism, environmental and the perilous balance of so much that we take for granted. . . . I loved this book, and how it turns another time into another country, but doesn’t it always seem that way? So far away, and yesterday, and it’s as though you could almost get back there, and you nearly know the way.” –Kerry Clare, on her blog Pickle Me This“Like the best dystopian worlds, Thea Lim’s debut resonates with the present. . . . There are echoes of . . . Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife [in] Lim’s examination of love’s durability through crisis and time. . . . An Ocean of Minutes is a timely novel that brings a fresh perspective on the complex subjects of migration and displacement that plague our world today.” —The Irish Times   “Lim's remarkable debut delves into immigration and the ravages of time, yet without ever losing sight of the love story at its bittersweet heart. . . . [Lim has] created that rare thing in modern fiction - a truly compelling love story, between two people you cannot help but be emotionally invested in.” —The Straits Times (Singapore)“Love can cross oceans, but can it transcend time? . . . Soulmates, survival and sacrifice are interwoven in this poignant, heartrending tale.” —Canadian Living"The love story—more precisely, Toronto-based Lim’s exquisite examination of the soul-saving illusions of love—that unspools as Polly searches for Frank is more than strong enough to carry this absorbing debut." —Maclean's"A story of loss and longing. . . . An unusual investigation on the impact of being separated from the people you love [that is] set in a past that could be our future.” —Winnipeg Free Press“Heartbreakingly human.” —Hello Giggles“I will never forget Polly and Frank and the way their story had me transfixed…There’s such an urgency to Polly’s story once she gets to the future and there are definite parallels to the migrant/refugee experience. I can’t wait for more people to read this book.” —Book Riot"The prose is gorgeous. . . . Lim’s novel explores love’s vitality in a world where time creates as many wounds as it heals." --THIS magazine