Craig Savel, 123 pgs, Anvil Press, anvilpress.com, $16
After a supposed mental break, once-brilliant professor Leonard falls from grace and is kept on payroll at Columbia University as a nominal janitor. Despite the ableist discrimination thrown Leonard’s way via the Physics Department, Post-doctoral researcher Paul (not un-ableist himself) partners with Leonard, and together the two men discover time travel and launch into the past. There, Leonard tries to stop his inevitable descent, while Paul realizes there’s nowhere in all of time where he truly feels at home.
Heading into Traversing Leonard, you expect a sci-fi bildungsroman about a young academic learning not to judge a book (Leonard) by its cover (his supposed insanity). That’s not the case. Instead, there are paragraphs of scientific info-dumping, and a persistent fixation on Paul’s sex drive. To give an idea of where the narrative’s priorities lie, when Paul discovers time travel we get a paragraph. But when Paul finally has sex, we get three pages.
This would be less awful if Paul seemed to actually like women. But instead, he ruminates on the loss of the physical relationship he had with a stereotypically angry but beautiful Colombian woman, calls every black woman he sees “mocha-skinned,” and then patronizingly assures his 1950s love interest that “women should be allowed to express their sexuality as much as men,” before proceeding to eroticize her verbal “no” during a sex act. Erotic time travel stories can certainly be fun, but the sexual arc of the story was bland and borderline offensive. It also took up a lot of space, pulling away from the bittersweet trials Leonard faces while fighting to reset his life. The book could have done with a little more Leonard, the more interesting of the two men; possibly, it could have been written entirely from his perspective.
Paul being a terrible person is likely the point of the story, but there isn’t quite enough in Traversing Leonard to make him an anti-hero. Joined with the stilted prose — We found ourselves in the basement of Fayerweather Hall. We walked out of Fayerweather onto campus. Luckily it was an unusually warm November Day”— it’s a better bet to skip this story in favour of the similar-in- concept but better-executed film, Safety not Guaranteed. (Kerrie McCreadie)