Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 52-99). The first round is available here.
Summarizer: Josie Nunn
The old man, Henry Baird, picks up Polly. He is the one who asked for Polly to come and help him restore furniture for a hotel vacation spot. It turns out that he’s the one that made Polly come to 1998 instead of 1993. 93% of the population has been wiped out from the pandemic. Like Polly, Baird wanted to time travel in order to help save his boyfriend; however, TimeRaiser blocked him from joining because he is gay.
Polly meets the driver from the other day at Moody Plaza. His name is Norberto. She tries to make calls to Frank and other family members but none of the calls go through. Polly learns from Norberto that 1) she is paid by TimeRaiser through her LifeFund, 2) the North and the South have spilt up into the United States and America, and 3) America has become a resort destination for the rich countries that survived the pandemic. Also, people keep speaking Spanish to her.
Flashback to Frank going over to Polly’s ex-boyfriend Chad’s house to get back Polly’s furniture. The furniture originally belonged to her late mother. He fights Chad, but Chad’s sister comes downstairs and tell them to knock it off. So, Chad goes downstairs and helps Frank load the furniture in the back of his truck.
Polly goes to work at a hotel being reconstructed. She meets Baird there. He sleeps while she works. Polly keeps asking Norberto about finding Frank.
On Tuesday Polly meets Misty and Sandy. They tell Polly that she might be able to find Frank at the Demographic Center. Sandy is pessimistic while Misty is more optimistic.
After work on Saturday, Polly walked all the way to where the Flagship Hotel once was. She sees a family swimming which makes her uncomfortable. She gets to a wall of trash and finds a chair that was at the Flagship Hotel. A group of soldiers come out and point their guns at her. She gets searched and then taken to a trailer to get questioned. Eventually, they let her go with a warning. Apparently there’s a problem with H-1’s trying to escape by crossing the border.
Discussion Director 1: Shelby Edison
An Ocean of Minutes Discussion Questions
- Throughout this section, Norberto repeatedly promises Polly that he will attempt to look into information to reconnect Polly with the people she is trying to find. And Norberto repeatedly fails to keep up on his promises, leaving Polly disappointed. Do you think that Polly will eventually give up on asking Norberto for help on reconnecting? Or will she fall into a cyclical pattern of getting her hopes up before being disappointed?
- On page 90, there’s a shift in perspective to branch away from Polly and go into Baird’s memories as he reflects upon his time with Leonard. Why do you think Lim decided to implement a perspective change in this paragraph? Did it take you out of Polly’s story abruptly, or did it add complexity to the TimeRaiser world that Polly is living in?
- Pages 69-74 go back in time to show Frank’s mission to take Polly’s furniture back from Chad. Reflecting back on last discussion, one of Frank’s character traits so far has been countering awkwardness with a sweet gesture (i.e. Frank not remembering the napkins from the bar, but then giving Polly a whole roll of them.) Did you find this chapter to be a continuation of this character trait of Frank? Did you find his crusade to take the furniture back to be reckless or romantic? Why?
- One quote on page 90 especially stood out to me: “To feel sad about the past is to recognize the past as passed.” How did you interpret this quote in relation to Polly’s story? Polly seems to be a character who refuses to see the past as passed, holding onto a sense of debilitating optimism. Do you agree with this interpretation of Polly? Do you see her inching closer to accepting the past as passed, or living in a state of perpetual time-travel jet lag?
My answer: I saw this quote to mean that until we have accepted that something can no longer happen, we live with a sense of (false) hope that anything is possible. Relating to Polly, I think that her mission to find the Flagship Hotel at all costs shows how she is unwilling to accept that the past is passed, unwilling to say that the odds of reconnecting with Frank are low and her expectations are a product of a different time. I also think that the fact that scenes which take place is the past (1970s) are told in present tense show Polly’s unwillingness to not live in the past.
- Polly meets Sandy and Misty, two sisters who are Journeymen that help Polly out with explaining some of the fundamentals of the world. Misty presents a new outlook on the TimeRaiser system, as being from 1984, she’s experienced such a bad world that she is just happy to be alive and well, even if freedoms are limited. Did Misty’s perspective change how you viewed the TimeRaiser system? What are the benefits of introducing a character to the story who tolerates the system of the new world?
Discussion Director 2: Eli Johns-Krull
- “They fixed it, with something like only seconds to spare, in the buffer time” (54). Here we learn that the change from 1993 to 1998 was a correction done while Polly was in transit, and therefore not something she could have learned about. Does the indication she was sent to 1998 because of accidents and miscommunications change your opinion of TimeRaiser? Why or why not?
- On page 64 we get an explanation of the LifeFund system, which seems to indicate that TimeRaiser controls all of Polly’s money and expenses. Does this strike you as a reasonable system, or an exploitative one? Why or why not?
- “Believing [the cosmic powers were shunning her] was more pleasant than realizing the cosmos had no preference” (76). Do you agree with Polly here? Why or why not? Would you rather believe the universe is working against you or is ambivalent to you?I think it might be more pleasant to believe the universe is actively shunning you, because that feeds back into the idea that you are important enough for the universe to take notice of your existence. Polly wants to believe she matters, one way or another, and despite it being terrible for the universe to have it out for you, it shows that the universe cares, in a roundabout way. Despite that, I believe it is better, overall, to go through life with the realization that the universe operates on too large a scale to focus on you specifically. I personally follow the idea of absurdism as the guiding principle of my life, which yields the answer that any plan of the universe’s happens on too grand a scale for human beings to ever comprehend it; therefore, the simple answer is that it is better (or, at least, more accurate, to view the universe as ambivalent). Through that, you are freed from universal constraints and, I believe, more able to take agency for yourself and your own actions.
- “We’re getting the past back, but better. It will be the way we like to remember it instead of the way it was. People will pay anything for that” (82). Do you think the American culture over-glorifies the past? Why (not)? Why do you think we like to imagine the past as better than it was?
- “How do we know it wasn’t actually an even more virulent version of the flu masquerading as a vaccine?” (87). Sandy offers this at the end of a series of conspiracy theories about TimeRaiser’s true intentions with sending the vaccine back to 1981. Do you think this idea is plausible? Why or why not? How does what we know about TimeRaiser affect your opinion?
Lit Connector: Maja Neal
Landscape of overgrown buildings: similar to the one from [the video game] The Last of Us
Polly describes the buildings around her as being overgrown as if taken back by nature. This led me to picture the run-down landscape as similar to the one from The Last of Us, but with less buildings, as she also says (and I can believe, from what I’ve seen of spectacularly flat Galveston). The Last of Us, similarly, takes place a few years after most of humanity has been wiped out by an awful disease. The only really big difference is that the game’s disease turns people into zombies. Either way, the post-apocalyptic feel – and, more specifically, the one of a world regrown instead of a world totally obliterated – is pretty close.
Border control: Pretty much an exact metaphor for the current Mexican border crisis
Baird’s past: Extremely similar to Klaus and Dave’s situation in The Umbrella Academy.
The splitting of America and the United States: The Civil War references are pretty much on blast here.
Illustrator: Lauren Sternenberg
I chose this picture because throughout major events in this section, there are chairs.
First with sitting in the trishaw with Baird, where her job and the state of the US is explained to her. Then with Norberto, who isn’t the most accommodating to get Polly in touch with Frank.
The next big event is a flashback to Frank confronting Chad about Polly’s mother’s furniture. He proves he cares about her enough to stand up to this ugly, violent man, which undermines the fear Polly feels in the future about her being forgotten. If he can remember where her mother’s furniture is, make arrangements to go get it, and successfully do so, I’d say they have a good chance.
Then Polly actually goes to work, where Baird is drunk and sad about his lost love. She is comfortable for the first time here.
Lastly, with the interaction with immigration. She’s held in a chair while being questioned, then left in the chair long enough that she falls asleep thinking of the Flagstaff hotel she still needs to meet Frank at. The chair here represents hope, and even as she is pulled away, she regains some of that confidence Misty and Sandy accidentally made her lose.
Literary Luminary: Eva Trakhtman
- She’d tried to examine what she saw with detachment – blocks of houses with trees growing out of their roofs, roads mutating into woods – as if she was only a visitor to this place, because she was. (p 75)
- This quote shows Polly, who is unable to get out of bed in her hotel room, observing 1998 America from outside her window. Polly is a stranger in a new world, which is why she refers to herself as a tourist, and her inability to perceive the world around her as currently her own is consistently expressed throughout the book. This is just one example. I chose this quote because of the clear animosity in the writing “roads mutating into woods”, which reflects how Polly invalidates the world around her. I wonder how long it will take her to rid herself of this distancing technique, and if she ever will, it’s interesting to see denial written so beautifully and intricately.
- Nostalgia drove their work; without sentimental value they’d be out of a job. But you could not get too involved with the nostalgic impulse yourself. (p 89)
- The girl in her bikini was almost more unsettling than the foreign horrors Polly had envisioned, because her alikeness insisted that Polly’s own decent world was on the same spectrum as this one. (p 91)
- “We’ve never seen an O-1 escapee before. You’ve got a good deal, in relation. Why would you try to stow away?” (p 96)
- “Christ Almighty. That’s what you get for being a nice guy. You better pipe down before I take you back to holding. You made your bed, now lie in it.”
He was right. She had signed the papers, she had agreed, and now she only had herself to blame. She had done it all without understanding the weight of what she was doing. Until this moment, the choice she’d made had kept its true, perverse nature secret: it was irreversible, and only comprehensible after it was done. (p 99)
Literary Terms Expert: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp
“Silence crackled between them.” (pg. 56)
“Her brain was not able to sustain the information he’d given. It held it for a pause, them rejected it, like a coin slot dropping a bad dime.” (pg. 64)
“There was a polished-steel mirror, but she kept away from it, not wanting to see a strangers face.” (pg. 67)
“She heard the sound of waves crashing, but really it was the plastic sheet, gusting in and out at the hallway’s end, like the south side of the building had gills.” (pg. 67)
“The march of goosebumps across his shoulders, his hand in her hair, his toes lacing her ankles, his arm on her waist like a roller coaster bar, her body unlocking, the catch of her heart.” (pg. 68)
“Empty plots had a bald, startled look, still bearing the footprints of a house…” (pg. 77)
“She put it back, name-side down, but the brand was on both sides. The wormhole spit her back out.” (pg. 79)
“Polly knew what was going to happen before it happened, the ill about to come from Sandy’s mouth, like an incantation, a thing that becomes actual when words hit air.” (pg. 87-88)
“Eventually this white noise of optimism would completely fuzz over her memories of their minutiae…” (pg. 89)
The quote on page 68 holds significance not only in the way it’s spoken with various examples of personification, but also how the quote acts as one large symbol of Polly’s jealousy. Someone, no matter who they are, is able to have what she has been reaching for since even before she time traveled: the chance to have a baby with Frank. And now, in a drab, depressing room that’s far from her ideal future, she’s far away from a potentially dead Frank, while somebody else gets to have what she can’t.