Thirty years in the writing, Selden Edwards's dazzling first novel is an irresistible triumph of the imagination. Wheeler Burden-banking heir, philosopher, student of history, legend's son, rock idol, writer, lover, recluse, half-Jew, and Harvard baseball hero-one day finds himself wandering not in his hometown of San Francisco in 1988 but in a city and time he knows mysteriously well: Vienna, 1897. Before long, Wheeler acquires a mentor in Sigmund Freud, a bitter rival, a powerful crush on a luminous young woman, and encounters everyone from an eight-year-old Adolf Hitler to Mark Twain as well as the young members of his own family. Solving the riddle of Wheeler's dislocation in time will ultimately reveal nothing short of one eccentric family's unrivaled impact upon the course of human history.
First-time novelist Selden Edwards here conjures up a light fable about the birth of modernism -- a frothy bit of time-travel that makes literal Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return. In this case, we're given to understand that Edwards's all-American hero, Frank Standish Burden III, and his father, Frank II, were able to change the course of modern history and culture by traveling back to Vienna during its golden age. With cameos by Freud, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and a host of Viennese luminaries, Edwards compounds his historical conceit by comparing the radical politics and artistic tumult of the fin de siècle to America in the '60s. Frank III, known to friends as "Wheeler" for his devastating baseball pitch, shows up Zelig-like at all sorts of crucial moments in his own time as well. A hip refusenik in the Bartleby tradition, he walks off the mound at the Harvard-Yale game -- one pitch shy of a perfect game; and off the stage at Altamont -- he's also a kick-ass rocker who learned his licks from Buddy Holly himself. But Wheeler, "a stranger in a strange land" wherever he is, rises to greater challenges when he wakes up one day in the past -- a past inhabited also by members of his own Boston Brahmin family, who figure greatly into the future of politics and culture. The plot twists can be dizzying, with some weird suggestions of incest, but Edwards's mythic quest and liberal notions will delight fans of Jack Finney and John Irving. His New Age-y ideas about a "symmetric reality," "state of flow," and "life force" serve him well for this improbable romp through time. --Thomas DePietro