In the age of widespread refugee crises, weather events, data mining, corporate greed and totalitarian politics, dystopian narratives are very much on the brain. Toronto writer Thea Lim taps into this trend with her timely debut, An Ocean of Minutes, which draws on the best of old and new CanLit traditions.
The novel follows twentysomething Polly — a furniture upholsterer — and her bartender boyfriend Frank, who are madly in love. The year is 1981 and a pandemic is sweeping America. The couple get stuck in Texas, and Frank becomes infected. To get the treatment that will save his life, Polly agrees to enter into a contract with the TimeRaiser corporation, travelling twelve years into the future and working off her subsequent debt to the company. The couple promise to meet in 1993 in Galveston, to proceed with plans for marriage and children.
But when Polly lands, the year is actually 1998, and nothing is as expected. As a second-class citizen in a breakaway republic, her movements are curtailed and the state is always watching. TimeRaiser is a complex bureaucracy that requires endless patience to navigate. Frightened neighbours turn each other in. Migrants toil away at manual labour, subsisting on rationed food, many unable to understand English or to obtain information on the whereabouts of family. Polly, meanwhile, must risk all to hang on to the love that’s defined her life.