(Diane and Leo Dillon’s cover for the 1968 1st edition)
2.75/5 (Vaguely Average)
Various Bob Shaw fans told me to read Nightwalk (1967) or find a copy of Other Days, Other Eyes (1972)—especially as I adored one of the short stories that appeared in the later fix-up novel —“Light of Other Days” (1966). Instead, I cast wary eyes toward my shelves and read The Two-Timers. I wish I read Nightwalk. I tried, I must confess, but wasn’t in the mood and then something about The Two-Timers’ Diane and Leo Dillon cover—the doubling visages, contorted, anguished, and angular—pulled me in. For the full glory of the image, I’ve included a his-res scan below.
John Breton’s relationship with his wife, Kate, is on the shoals. A horrific trauma and mystery looms oppressive in the background–“nine years earlier, to the month, […] a police cruiser had found Kate wandering in the darkness of 50th Avenue, with flecks of human brain tissue spattered across her face” (14). John, after a spousal squabble, had left her to walk alone to a party. Despite a flawless (and true) alibi, a witness swore to the police that the man who killed Kate’s attempted murderer was indeed John! Key scenes in John’s life, for example, the police interactions investigating the crime and his own disturbing thoughts about how his life would be better without Kate, come back to him in “flashes of absolute recall” (23). He suffers again and again. Cue SF element: the man who rescued Kate was indeed John, or rather, Jack Breton. In Jack Breton’s timeline Kate had been “clubbed, raped and stabbed” (36). Jack had found a way to enter John’s timeline and prevent the murder from happening….
And now Jack has returned to John’s timeline to reclaim the wife he had rescued. And of course, as John’s relationship is on the way out perhaps Jack will be able to rekindle some of the old passion and love. And, most importantly, he has a gun to dispose with his other self.
The Two-Timers is a middling book. A series of SF tropes are hurled willy-nilly into and entwined within the domestic space of a living room. The arena of a decaying intrapersonal relationships between man and wife…
The pattern goes something like this:
1. Husband hurls barbed (secret) insult: “Breton [John] ran a mental eye over the quiver full of sarcasms which immediately offered itself, and finally—in deference to their guests—selected one of the least lethal” (5).
2. SF idea #1: TIME TRAVEL
3. Wife remembers insult late at night–the Cold War escalates: “She could remember that one, for discussion, probably at 3:00 AM when he was trying to sleep” (5).
4. SF idea #2: WEIRD ASTRONOMICAL OCCURANCES
5. Dopplegängers argue about who gets to keep their wife. Wife feels sexy with the other husband.
6. SF idea #3: TELEPATHY
Yes, yes. One can reduce most books to a barebones list which sounds ridiculous…. On the surface all the parts are there. Shaw’s focus on the household arena of a decaying relationship feels unnervingly realistic, the barbs that fly are barbs which fly between husband and wife. But the deluge of compounding explanations and manifestations reduced the powerful simplicity of the premise.
Avoid. Unless you’re a Bob Shaw completest….
(Detail of Diane and Leo Dillon’s art)
(Uncredited cover for the 1971 edition)
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