“The Dream Daughter”
By Diane Chamberlain
(St. Martin’s Press, 371 pp, $27.99)
Growing up on a steady of diet of bad TV in the 1960s, time travel conjures up idiotic plot lines such as T-Rexes chasing urbane dandies or pharaohs finding themselves in the middle of intergalactic traffic.
Time travel can be a hackneyed contrivance. Yet, of course, it has worked before, and in the hands of a master, it can be brilliant. In this, the time traversed is just between 1970 and 2001, then 2013. The word “just” though is deceptive. Consider the differences among those times.
Diane Chamberlain, who grew up in Plainfield, does a magnificent job of reminding us how technology transformed our world over these decades. Yet the heart of the book is a consistent beat: a mother’s fierce love for her child.
This opens in 1965 when our protagonist, Carly, working as a physical therapist, connects with a man no one else can. Hunter is not, as initially suspected, mentally ill. But he is from the near future.
Blessedly this does not contain any dystopian or utopian themes. Instead it is a look at what a desperate woman will do when given the opportunity to save her child. Carly withstood tremendous sadness by the time she was in her twenties.
Her parents were killed in a car crash when she was a young teen. Her sister, Patti, barely older than she, raised her, and Carly married the only fellow she ever loved, a kid she met on the beach and stayed in love with, as Joe went off to Vietnam. Joe was killed just as Carly first discovered she was pregnant.
Soon, she also learned the fetus had inoperable problems with her heart. Inoperable in 1970, not in 2001.
Chamberlain, in her 26th novel, gives enough of a plausible reason – for how many people honestly understand the time-space continuum and have figured out how to do time travel? – that this works. It has to do with traveling when all atmospheric changes are just right, involves all sorts of higher math and each traveler can only take four trips. Oh, and no monkeying around with the realities of any given time, no changing the course of history.
Hunter, that guy Carly was assigned to work with for his broken ankle, and who married Patti, is a time traveler because his brilliant mother figured out the portals.
Since Carly grew up in Nags Head, N.C., she needed, for her peace of mind, to step into the seeming nothingness of the time portal over water, as if she were jumping in.
Here, Hunter’s working out potential return dates for Patti after she delivers her baby in the future.
“There was plenty of water – Manhattan was an island, after all – but I had no way of knowing the altitude of the many piers or the accessible locations on the bridges. I turned the pages slowly, hunting for a launch location that would work. It was jarring to see a 1968 picture of Lower Manhattan. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were under construction, rising about halfway to their final height. … Sometimes knowing the future truly sucked.”
Carly does not care about the physics, the politics or the technology. She is an orphaned, young widow who desperately wants to carry her baby to term. Naturally, she’s interested in this new world, and must learn enough to blend in.
CNN fascinates her and the size of TVs surprises her. For, Carly, though this is not about profiting, exploring or changing any world event – except ensuring the health of her unborn daughter.
While science marches on it cannot guarantee that complications won’t arise in a child who was so ill. And no matter how brilliant the calculations are, even a genius cannot predict the craven depths of terrorists, so when Carly time travels on Sept. 11, 2001, her landing does not work as expected.
Hunter’s mom, the mastermind behind all of this, pulls strings to find out what happened to Carly’s daughter, in 2013. She warns Carly to not try to meet her daughter. Of course readers know she will. But how and where – Summit comes into play – work nicely.
Though time travel, by definition, still feels like the stuff of science fiction, as Chamberlain weaves the story lines together, this instead is simply excellent fiction; for the love a mother has for her daughter is timeless.