Repeat Review
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Bill Murray found himself replaying one outrageous day in Groundhog Day. Jake Gyllenhaal replayed one tragic train ride in Source Code. Now, in author Neal Pollack’s novel Repeat, a down-and-out writer finds himself replaying the first half of his life time and time again, struggling get it right.

The story begins the day before Brad Cohen’s fortieth birthday. Though he once dreamed of a lucrative career as a Hollywood screenwriter, those dreams were short-lived. Following a brief stint as a writer for a bad animated series, he finds himself half-heartedly making the rounds from one humiliating pitch meeting after another.

On the morning of his birthday, though, he wakes up in the womb. Though his childhood years are rather frustrating, he sees this as his do-over—his chance to fix his life. But he soon realizes that he’s been thrown into an infinite time loop, forced to live the first 40 years of his life over and over again, with no end in sight.

Repeat poses an intriguing question: if you could do it all over again, what would you change? Sure, it’s a question that’s been asked before, but Pollack’s wit and clever observations—along with his cynical hero—seem to promise a new take on an old concept.

Brad is clearly smart and talented; he’s simply taken a few too many blows, and he’s given up. As he reflects back on his life, he finds that it’s fallen far short of his expectations. He isn’t rich. He isn’t successful. He lives in a run-down rental house with his wife and two daughters. Although starting over from scratch means wearing diapers and reliving those awkward teen years, it also means getting a chance to fix the mistakes that he made the first time around. Armed with his knowledge of the future, Brad is free to use his past lives to his advantage—to play the stock market, to bet on sporting events, to build a successful career as a political journalist with an uncanny ability to predict the future. And, for a while, his experiences make for an entertaining read.

Unfortunately, though, as Brad continues through his time loop, his lives become less and less interesting. In an attempt to break up the monotony, Pollack often turns to gimmicks—at one point spoiling all of the fun by dropping some not-so-subtle hints about what’s really happening, at another point trying to be a little too cute by inserting himself into the story. Eventually, as Brad begins to lose track of his timelines, he seems to lose his personality, too—becoming either a raving lunatic or a yoga-practicing hermit. And it’s all rather anti-climactic in the end, thanks to the built-in spoiler and an over-sentimental conclusion. It’s a shame, too—because while the story began with so much promise, it simply fizzles out.

With its mix of introspection, wit, and aging Gen-X-er cynicism, Repeat offers a clever—and entertaining—twist on a familiar plot. After a while, though, the character gets stuck in a rut—and the story follows suit. And what starts out as a smart time-looping adventure eventually spirals into an endless cycle of tired indifference.

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