Now that we’re doing a “book club” at PVA, our presentations are taking the form of a “literature circle.” The students’ lit circle materials for the first three chapters of Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp.1-51) are below:
Summarizer: Shelby Edison
Polly and Frank drive to Houston Intercontinental Airport where Polly is scheduled to time travel. She is scheduled to go to the year 1993 and she and Frank have a plan to meet the first Saturday at the Flagship Hotel. Polly is traveling because Frank has been diagnosed with the flu and the only way for him to get medical care is for Polly to work for TimeRaiser and travel into the future. A woman nears her Polly starts to cry when she has to remove her pair of shoes that she wore from home. Polly, after changing, accidentally goes into the wrong waiting area, before being told to go to the correct room for 0-1 visas, or people with specific talents. The woman waiting with her has a breakdown and leaves. During her examination, Polly worries about being rerouted or not seeing Frank again. She doesn’t remember much of the journey, but she does remember finding a picture of her and Frank that he secretly gave her. She rips it up because she is certain that she will remember him. She gets to the future and in the hospital is told that it is actually 1998.
Back in 1978, Polly sits at a bar, where Frank works. She begins to cry and he hands her a napkin. Polly lives with her aunt, who encourages her to go back to the bar to see Frank again. She does and Frank gives her a matchbox with his name and phone number. For their first date, they walk in the park. It rains, so Frank suggests that they go to his place to get out of the rain. They see a squirrel get run over by a car, but it is still living. To put it out of its misery, Polly stomps on the squirrel. She says she should go home, but misses the bus. She realizes that she wants to g to Frank’s place but it is too late. In the car, Frank gives Polly an entire container of the napkins from the bar.
In 1993, Polly hopes that Frank will pick her up, but only TimeRaiser personnel can pick her up. She is taken by a driver to Galveston. Everything looks abandoned and she learns that 93% of the population has died due to the flu. She is supposed to work for the decorator at the Hotel Galvez. She wanted to call her aunt to find out where Frank is, but the telephone number that she has is from the 1980s. The driver has to go home and she is not able to call anyone. The next morning, the phone is her room goes off telling her where she is to go for the day. She is to be picked up by a bus and taken to work. She gets on the bus. A lot of other also get on the bus and they pass around tomatoes. The bus driver tells everyone to get off when they reach a factory but Polly explains that she is in the wrong place. The driver realizes the mistake, but says that she has to work there for a few hours or else he will get fired. The job at the factory is riding bikes to use for power. Polly rides the bike, and realizes that the bus driver is not returning for her. She has to use the restroom, and wanders around trying to find it. She finds a recording of children playing, but no restroom. She has to go in the bushes. She attempts to walk back to where she started the day, in hopes of meeting Frank, but the journey is longer than she thought. She ends up being found by an older man who tells her to come with him.
Discussion Director 1: Maja Neal
- Did you notice the tense changes through the times? If so, how did they affect your reading?
- Do you think Polly goes into the time travel operation with an inflated sense of her own importance?
- How did Polly’s job strike you – as a necessary payment or more like indentured servitude?
- In that vein, what past conflicts did this one (and Polly’s forced solution) remind you of? How did you react to her predicament?
- Why do you think the author chose to detour Polly through the working-class section of Galveston? What did it do for our understanding of the world in 1998?I think it was a really important choice of Lim’s to take Polly through the grittier part of Galveston before letting her get to her job. This way, not only do the readers get a glimpse of what normal life is like (considering Polly, by time-immigration standards, is special), but so does Polly. She gets to experience the regular working-class conditions, which might later make her more sympathetic towards them; also, her lodgings are still pretty humble for a “special” passenger, giving the reader a view of how little difference there is between employees. Polly also tends to bond with the workers around her (like the first and second drivers) and is concerned about the people in the bike energy mill, which I took as a demonstration of her empathy, despite the fact she remains high-strung.
Discussion Director 2: Eli Johns-Krull
- On page 21, Polly rips up the only photo she brought with her to travel forward with. While she begins to regret this almost immediately, she explains that she did it because there is not a “future timeline in which she could forget [Frank].” Do you agree with her motivations? Why (not)? What would you have done in her place?
- On page 23, it is revealed to Polly that she has not gone to 1993, as she planned, but 1998. Based on the book so far, and the sparing information we’ve gotten about the organization that brought her into the future, do you think this misplacement was an honest mistake or something more malicious Why (not)? Does the fear/secrecy about reroutements earlier in the chapter sway your opinion?
- “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” (5). This is the assurance that Polly and Frank share with each other when discussing meeting again in the future. They are sure of this before Polly leaves. But Polly arrives in a future where the cities have crumbled and been remade (though there are, as yet, no aliens). Do you think her surety about the future and their ability to find each other will last in this entirely unfamiliar world? Why (not)?
- On page 49, Polly encounters a recording of children’s voices on a playground being played for the guests at a resort. She notes that “she could think of no healthy reason for the recording.” Do you agree with her? Why (not)? Why do you think the resort keeps that recording playing?I, like Polly, don’t think there’s a healthy reason for the voices to be played. While I understand the merit of using voices as background noise (similar to meditation or a general hum of voices to use as while noise), there’s something specifically creepy about having it be kids’ laughter. Using children as entertainment, especially by adults, is generally slightly off-putting to me, but it’s especially strange to just have a recording of them playing. It’s not something I would ever use as background noise, which makes me wonder why it appeals to these bottle-wearing vacationers. I don’t have many guesses as to why the resort uses that record, except that perhaps there’s a scarcity of children in this new, changed world (either because people have stopped having them in response to the pandemic, or because something about the pandemic made it hard if not impossible for people to have children). If I had to chalk their motivation up to anything, I hope it’s nostalgia for a better time when there were children running around playgrounds (under the assumption that they aren’t anymore) than a more sinister/creepy reason.
- “Pandemic took ninety-three percent of us, through sickness or flight” (36). TimeRaiser, the company that sent Polly into the future, didn’t invent the technology in 1981; they got it from 1993. If they have gotten technology, do you think they’ve also received information about the nature of the future? Why (not)? They advertise traveling to a future where the flu has been cured. Do you think they are purposefully misleading journeymen? If so, what do you think their motivations are?
Lit Connector: Lauren Sternenberg
Edwidge Danticat’s Brother I’m Dying Connection (x2)
o On Page 3, when Frank has just been evicted, he’s worried about his physical possessions. However, it’s not just the items, it’s what they represent to him (family, his personality, possibly even the life he and Polly built) but mostly, stability. His health degenerates shortly after, and suddenly everything that he was is going to end. This connects to Uncle Joseph’s worries in Brother I’m Dying about his church—his livelihood—being burned down due to “helping” the Peacekeepers kill the local gangs. He’s forced to run to keep himself save, to leave everything behind in Haiti and get to America. Then, like Frank, he officially loses the notebooks—Frank’s records—of his little chronicles of Haitian life due to governmental negligence—although his life is later lost as well due to negligence.
Hunger Games connection
Illustrator: Eva Trakhtman
This image ties directly to the scene where Polly puts a squirrel out of its misery (after its legs are ran over by a car) while on her first date with Frank. The squirrel’s legs are run over, and while Frank wants to call Animal Control, Polly buys a newspaper and stomps on the squirrel’s head. This action shows her determination, which carries through into her confidence and courage as she’s taking on the burden of time-travel. The fear of leaving behind a familiar world and a young love is hard to fathom, but Polly demonstrates in her mercy-killing of the squirrel, and in her abandoning of her old life, that she is an individual that does what she believes needs to be done.
How does the scene with the squirrel come to represent Polly’s actions later on in the book? How does this moment define Frank, and can anything be predicted about his character (or Polly’s) based on how he reacted in this scene?
Literary Luminary: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp
“They squeeze each other’s hands so hard, the skin of his suit bites the web between her fingers and there is no way they can touch skin to skin, and the seat of her heart falls away and so does her resolve.” (pg. 6)
“Polly fixes her eyes on the Van Gogh painting. The first time she ever laid eyes on it, in a guidance counselor’s office, she thought it was magic: the way the painting was like a window, as if you could walk right into the scene. Just by looking at it, you were somewhere else… Polly’s seen the painting too many times. She can’t get the light in the painting to do what it used to.” (pg. 14-15)
“It’s a plan able to withstand early closing doors and a snarl of stairways, not the ocean of minutes that twelve years holds.” (pg. 20)
“Something to remember us by.” (pg. 21)
“Of course she would see him tomorrow. Of course he would be waiting on the first floor of the Flagship, sitting in those bulbous burgundy armchairs, where he had a view of the door. Of course she would get there hours before he even formed the thought that she might not make it. And by tomorrow evening, this acid fear that she would never again see his face would have lasted less than a day.” (pg. 41)
The final quote listed serves as an accurate representation of Polly’s state of mind throughout the first few chapters of the novel; she stands on the edge of absolute panic and doom while grasping at the thin threads of hope. The repetition of the phrase “of course” demonstrates her attempts to keep her spirit alive during times of uncertainty. Despite this, the phrase comes off somewhere between sarcastic and reluctant, as if she’s already come to realize that nothing is or will be going as planned.
Literary Terms Expert: Josie Nunn
“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. (1)”
This sentence on the first page illustrates a sense of longing. It reminds me of the feeling when you’re a kid and your mom is leaving you at school, and although you know she will go, you still try to make that last attempt to cling to her familiar body. On the other hand, I don’t find the city smelling like something sweet at all. Maybe it’s just a Houston thing, but Downtown smells like grease, gasoline, and heavy, humid air.
“They ate the raisins slowly so they would last until the sun went down, chewing each juiceless bead until only threads remained between their teeth. (6)”
Polly and Frank in this sentence are trying to make something impermanent, permanent. Even before Polly had to leave, they were trying to avoid time travel. The unavoidable ticking forward of time. When Polly goes to the future, she only has lose memories of Frank left.
“The first time she ever laid eyes on it, in a guidance counselor’s office, she thought it was magic: the way the painting was like a window, as if you could walk right into the scene. (9)”
During this time, Polly is having an uncomfortable exchange with another woman in the room. In her mind, she is trying to escape the situation; we can also assume that Polly was trying to make a mental escape in the guidance counselor’s office (I mean who isn’t?). Her overall predicament in the TimeRaisers airport makes her incredibly wary and want to step through the painting.
“But the phone had no buttons, not on the front or the back, the receiver or the cradle. It was like a face without features. (26)”
Polly is now in an unknown time and place. Although she’s being directed on where to go, she in internally lost. For some reason when I read this sentence it reminded me of the fetal baby in Silent Hills. Also in that game is travel through time and space! Polly seemed like she was almost going through a dissociative episode, also known as an out-of-body experience. Not necessarily that she is looking at her body from an outside perspective, but the feeling that the things that are happening are very real and it makes you feel overstimulated. The kind of out-of-body experience that is caused by a panic attack.