If one of the marks of a good book is that it makes you examine your own life, dreams, choices, and future direction, then Replay by Ken Grimmwood is a great book.
Imagine dying of a heart attack in your 40’s only to wake up again as an 18-year-old freshman at college. How would your second life differ from the first? What regrets from your first life would you try to avoid in the second? With your accumulated knowledge from your past, and a foreknowledge of the future, how would your relationships or career choice be different? Now imagine doing this again, five or six different times… This is the experience for Jeff Winston in Replay.
At first thought, the concept and the opportunity to redo life the right way seems like a pretty cool experience. Yet, as Grimmwood points out throughout the book, there may be much more of a downside to such experiences than any upside. These life-cycles seem to be a small snapshot of the Hindu concept of reincarnation (with the goal being to get off of the endless wheel of life and finally reach Nirvana). For example, anyone you loved and shared experiences with in a previous life would not share those same memories with you in the next life – you would need to painstakingly recreate such experiences. Any children you had would cease from your existence as each cycle began anew.
As I read the book and followed the often hedonistic pursuits of Jeff and Pamela (a second ‘replayer’ discovered on the third replay of Jeff’s life), along with their pursuit of meaning and transcendence, I felt that this book, in some ways, was a retelling of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Jeff and Pamela experience the meaninglessness of a life of fortune, of fame, of sexual promiscuity and indulgence, of drug and alcohol abuse, and even of loving relationships.
Time and again I had the thought that while life itself is a good gift from God, in this fallen world, life is meant to be lived only once – and that’s a good thing. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb. 9:27).” As a follower of Christ, my hope is not in fortune, fame, worldly success, or even really great earthly relationships in this life. Ultimately, there is a longing in us for something more, because we were created for something so much more than this life has to offer. We were created for an endless relationship in perfect love, free from the shackles of sin, with our Creator and Redeemer, along with others that have been redeemed in a perfect place called Heaven.
Reading this book was a good reminder of how short life really is, even if one were given the opportunity to relive it five or six times, it’s still just a blink in the spectrum of eternity. As Jeff and Pamela begin to realize that their ‘life-cycles’ are almost over, they too seem to wake up to this reality:
It had seemed as if they would have forever, an infinity of choices and second chances. They had squandered far too much of the priceless time that had been granted them, wasted it on bitterness and guilt and futile quests for nonexistent answers… (pg. 291).
***It should be noted that author Ken Grimwood did not write Replay from the same Christian worldview that I embrace. As such, there are chapters in the book where the main character goes headlong in to the sins of hedonistic sexual indulgence and illicit drug and alcohol use. In addition, even by the end of the book, the reader is left longing for answers to the questions of meaning and purpose. Those answers cannot be found in Replay, but there is another ‘Good Book‘ to which one can find the answers…