Adrienne Martini reviews Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai (Dutton 978-1-101-98513-7, $26.00, 384pp, hc) Febru­ary 2017.

‘‘So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.’’

So opens Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays and, indeed, main character Tom Barren comes from a 2016 we were supposed to have, the one that looks like the Space Age as imagined in the early 1960s, all Jetsons and flying cars and teleportation. Energy is unlimited, thanks to the Goettreider Engine, which was invented in 1965 and changed everything. It’s a world where punk rock never happened because it never needed to.

Only Tom is no longer in his 2016, the one where his Dad is a self-involved inventor, and his Mom exists only to serve his needs. Instead, Tom is here in our 2016, which is imperfect and messy and wrong. Because Tom’s Dad invented a time machine and Tom himself made an impulsive, stupid choice that sent him back to 1965, our 2016 came into existence. Now Tom is compelled to set it right. Sort of. See, there’s also a girl involved and, well, it’s complicated.

One of the best things about getting advanced copies of new books is the opportunity to discover all of the twists before knowing too much about them to feel that little thrill of the story twisting and shifting just when you think you’ve figured it out. So I will say no more about the plot because, man, does it twist and shift in all of the best ways. This is a science fiction love story that is by turns funny and wistful and smart, while remaining fully invested in how being human feels.

Mastai has a sure hand with all of the elements of storytelling. While he’s new to novels, he’s a screenwriter who’s had five of his scripts pro­duced. That experience informs All Our Wrong Todays but doesn’t define it. This is clearly a novel and not merely a fleshed-out screenplay, and Mastai’s jaunty prose is essential to the vibrant and engaging story.

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