An Ocean of Minutes: Lit Circle 2, Round 1

Now that we’re doing a “book club” at PVA, our presentations are taking the form of a “literature circle.” We’re on our second round of reading Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes. Some of the students’ lit circle materials for the first three chapters of  (pp.1-51) are below:


Discussion Director: Ivan Josic

  1. How far would you time travel for a loved one, if at all? Would you do it for an acquaintance or a stranger?
  2. Why do you think the author decides to put this crisis in the 80s and not, say, the present or the near future?
  3. Why does Thea Lim exclude information on the disease, not even giving it a name?
  4. What do you think would happen in a severe, pandemic-afflicted America like Thea Lim’s? Would there still be vacationers? What will happen in our own diseased future?
  5. How/why does Thea Lim differentiate her mode of time travel from other works?

I believe Thea Lim gives little information on the “deadly flu pandemic” because, as she frames the story, it’s not necessary. The disease has already taken its toll on humanity, and Polly Nader and her husband must work around this fact as they plot a course for themselves into the future. There is no need for an r-naught or a Patient Zero because this is no medical thriller, there are no doctors. As the Galveston bus driver says, 93% of America is already dead or gone.

Lit Connector: 

Illustrator: Pieper Grantham 


For my role as Illustrator this week, I made a collage featuring some of the images seen in this section. My collage has two main sections: Polly’s original timeline and the future she finds herself in. Representing her past is a paper bag filled with objects representing memories, objects, or goals associated with her life. I was really struck by the image of people clutching paper bags with the objects they would carry into the future, and I knew I wanted to construct Polly’s own paper bag filled with the things she would carry. Included in the bag is the squirrel, the beer, and the cocktail from her date with Frank, the man in the hazmat suit and the logo for St. Luke’s hospital representing the flu and her reason for traveling into the future, the baseball cards she brought, and the lightbulbs and the story of the woman wanting to bring high heels from the airport. When she lands in Galveston, it’s not a pretty sight, and everything is overgrown with brush, which is what I tried to convey through the scrunched up foliage clippings. Also in her future is the tomato she got on the bus, which is the very tiny smudge on the Galveston clipping. For the record I also wanted to include the baby sock, the matchbook with frank’s number, and a bicycle, but I guess there’s only so much I can ask for from a magazine.

Discussion Question: What do you think was the most startling and unexpected thing Polly encountered in 1998?

Literary Luminary: Caroline Paden

Four Quotes:

Page 20: “She is entering a world where the notion of something as normal as dinnertime does not exist.”

Page 25: “How much does it cost to put scalloped edges on every napkin? Such an act of beauty that goes mainly unseen.”

Page 40: “But there wasn’t [a light switch], at least not anywhere light switches are commonly mounted, scaled to basic human dimensions: within a foot of the door, within five feet of the floor. It was a small but eerie discrepancy.”

Page 49: “A speaker played a recording of children’s laughter, swings, and wind chimes. She could think of no healthy reason for the recording.”

The first quote is significant to the story because I think Thea Lim touched on an extremely relevant aspect of our lives right now during this weird semi-lockdown: the disruption of normalcy and routine as we (and Polly) enter a frightening new situation because of a deadly pandemic. In this section, Polly fully confronts for the first time the fact that she is doing something incredibly risky that she’s never done before. Her life is about to drastically change, and she has no idea what’s waiting on the other side of this journey except the promise of something better. To me, this quote also ties into how time ceases to exist in places like airports and train stations—they’re liminal spaces, where you’re not meant to rest or settle down, so routines and mealtimes and social structures get thrown out the window in favor of a kind of subdued anarchy. This quote would have felt familiar to me before this whole coronavirus situation, but it feels really familiar right now

Literary Terms Expert: Valentina Avellaneda

  1. Houston Intercontinental Airport
    1. Descriptions of the airport in a dystopian sort of society depict the enormous differences to the place we know in the present world. Though it remains a place of coming and going (transition), the way time travel plays a role in the airport gives it a more permanent feeling as when someone travels to the future, they cannot easily return. Comparing the airport in the book to the one in reality, characteristics of a modified, magically realistic world are evident.
    2. Before you can get within a mile of terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo.” (page 1)
  1. The color yellow
    1. The first time the color is introduced is in the beginning (“Frank is wearing a yellow hazmat suit. The color marks him as infected.”, page 1) as a color that differentiates health vs sickness. The color yellow is often associated with happiness, clarity, courage and abundance, characteristics opposite of what one suffering in a flu pandemic would express. Yet, altering the connotations of the color yellow serves to emphasize the other worldly circumstances to come (aka time travel!).
    2. Another place the color yellow is evident is in the reference to the Cafe Terrace at Night painting by Van Gogh (page 13). Van Gogh once said “The night is more alive and richly colored than the day.”, an opinion many might disagree with. Offering controversial tones, this painting allows readers to get insight into the bizarre world Polly is about to enter.
  1. Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative (and its procedures)
    1. The concept of time travel in this book gives it not only a dystopian feel, but also comments on the immigration situation in our society. Considering Polly has to sacrifice spending precious years with Frank while they’re young, to travel into the future in hopes of saving his life, the idea of separation is evident. Here, families (or couples…) are being torn apart by worldly events out of their control.
    2. Furthermore, how Polly is treated with her O-1 visa reflects the lack of equal opportunities immigrants are given. Her visa seems to provide some privileges those with an N-1 visa are deprived of, as they’re forced to live in metal boxes and ride stationary bicycles to provide energy as a job.
    3. They already have those people. They need people to fill the jobs no one wants.” (Page 14) Here, Polly’s capabilities deem her worthy of a visa entailing better circumstances.
  1. Baseball cards and matchbook
    1. These two items serve as a link between Polly and Frank’s relationship. The baseball cards are seen when Polly is having a medical evaluation to see if her health is good enough for time travel, and the psychologist tells her he needs to confiscate them. Polly has the cards as they may be worth $$$ in the future and because they belong to Frank.
    2. When Frank and Polly first meet, Frank writes his phone number in a matchbook. This simple gesture reflects the strength of their bond, as they no longer need luxurious items or grand gestures to be reminded of one another’s presence.
  1. Human powered energy
    1. The concept of resorting to other energy sources for the sake of the planet (or that natural resources run out…) is one we are not new to today. Yet, having “lower class” people riding bicycles day after day to power AC in tourist traps twists the idea of “another energy source”.