Missing Her.jpgMichio Kaku and the late Stephen Hawking, a couple of spoilsports in my estimation, both have maintained that time travel to the past is impossible. Their conclusions throw cold water on an idea that has stirred the imaginations of writers, film-makers, and ordinary people from, you should pardon the expression, time immemorial.

But J.L. Willow (it’s a nom de plume) isn’t deterred by theoretical physics, and so she has employed time travel to the past—her own original take on it—as the critical factor in her new novel, Missing Her.

This is the writer’s second novel, and she has just graduated from high school and is en route to the study of mechanical engineering. Her first novel was The Scavenger, a tale rooted in the New York City drug culture; I wrote about that book here last April, focusing on Willow’s talent as a story teller and her inventiveness in structuring the story she tells.

J.L. Willow

J.L. Willow

I’m impressed with the same things in Missing Her in which a teenaged girl, Eliza, vanishes after leaving a party alone, and her closest friend, Vanessa, is determined to find out what became of her. I don’t want to drop a spoiler here, so I’m going to rely on the description of the plot that appears in the promotional material:

“Months pass without a break in the case, until one day Vanessa wakes up . . . in Eliza’s mind. Even more disturbing, she discovers she’s woken up two days before Eliza goes missing. Vanessa has no choice but to relive her best friend’s memories leading up to the disappearance and discover the truth about what happened. . . . But is the past set in stone?”

That last question is a point on which Kaku and Hawking and others have based their conclusion that we can’t go back. If we visited the past, we might change the present, and, as Hawking pointed out in a PBS series, if you visited the past you would already be there!

The paradoxes involved in going back in time play a part in the story Willow weaves, a story in which the time traveler is not walking around in plain sight in her own persona, but rather is observing events from within the mind of another person, at times influencing the behavior of that person—acutely aware of the risks involved in altering events that have already occurred. If and when she does get to the point at which Eliza vanished, how will she be able to prevent it?

Willow creates a perplexing mystery, so much so that I was late for work one day, because I had to read one more chapter—and I still had to drive to my office wondering where this story was going.

Somewhere around here, I have two citations I received for stories I wrote in the first grade. I have no recollection of those stories, and, while I never mastered fiction writing, I have been a writer all my life.

In that respect, J.L Willow and I are two of a kind, and that’s why reading her first published works, and being captivated by them, is such an exciting experience for me.

You can view the book trailer by clicking HERE.




I have written in this space about several movies that had time-travel themes, but none so elegant as From Time to Time, a 2009 British production directed by Julian Fellowes.

The story is set in a country estate in England at the end of World War II. A 13-year-old boy named Tolly, played by Alex Etel, is sent to stay at the old house with his grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow, played by Maggie Smith. Mrs. Oldknow’s son — who is Tolly’s father — has been missing in action, and Tolly is holding onto a conviction that his dad is still alive. Tolly’s mother, who has had a cool relationship with Mrs. Oldknow, is occupied with trying to determine her husband’s fate, and she believes Tolly would be safer in the country until the war is over.

Tolly is very interested in the house and in his ancestors who have lived there, and he is distressed to learn that his grandmother, who has a great affection for her home and loves to tell Tolly stories about its past, can no longer afford to keep the place up and is planning to sell it.



As Tolly explores the house and the grounds, he begins slipping from the mid-twentieth century into a time two hundred years before. He enters a room and finds it occupied by his ancestors and their retinue. Chief among these figures is the master of the house, a magnanimous sea captain played by Hugh Bonneville. Most of these shadows are unaware of Tolly, but one who is immediately sensible of his presence is Capt. Oldknow’s blind young daughter, Susan (Eliza Bennett).  Susan is inadvertently the cause of a family crisis when Capt. Oldknow returns from one of his voyages with a black boy, a fugitive American slave named Jacob (Kwayedza Kureya). This lad, the captain announces, is to be a companion for Susan, and he is to be treated as a member of the household, not as a servant. This is met by resistance from Capt. Oldknow’s restless wife, Maria (Carice van Houten), his spoiled son Sefton (Douglas Booth), and from a none too disinterested servant named Caxton (Dominic West). The jealousy and antagonism directed at Jacob when the captain is away from home sets off a chain of events that results in a mystery that is not resolved until Tolly, the inquisitive time traveler, sorts it out.



This movie gets only fair to middlin’ reviews, but we found it entertaining and engaging. The quirky characters, including Pauline Collins as the latter-day household’s outspoken cook, Mrs. Tweedle, and Timothy Spall as the gruff Dickensian handyman whose bloodline has a critical place in the Oldknow family history.

Like a lot of  people, I suspect, I have been fascinated by the idea of time travel since I was a kid and have fantasized about the day when I myself could visit the past. According to a physics book I read not long ago, time travel to the future is possible, but time travel to the past is out of the question. It’s not  out of the question in the movies, though, so that’s where I do it, and it has never been more fun than in this film.

Time to Time 3

Vincent Donofrio and Marisa Tomei in "Happy Accidents"

I’ve been reading some articles about time travel; it’s a good way to make your head spin without the aid of alcohol.

The subject came up because we watched “Happy Accidents,” with Marisa Tomei and Vincent Donofrio. In this film, released in 2000, Tomei plays Ruby Weaver, a woman chronically unlucky in her relationships with men. She thinks her luck has changed when she becomes involved with Sam Deed (Donofrio), until he tells her that he is a traveler from the future – specifically from the year 2470.


Sam claims that he saw Ruby’s picture when he was living in Dubuque, and that he traveled through time, to Brooklyn, in search of her – though he doesn’t say why. As any person would, Ruby initially thinks Sam is either joking or deranged, but Sam won’t budge off his story. Ruby is particularly disturbed by a notebook in which Sam has repeatedly sketched the face of a woman — he claims it’s Ruby’s face — and written the words Chrystie Delancey — he claims she’s his “contact,” another time traveler who was assigned to give him his orientation when he arrived in the past — that is, the present.

This tale grows quite intense; in fact, I was surprised to see it listed on IMDb as a comedy, because there’s nothing funny about it.  It keeps us guessing whether we’re watching a fantasy in which Sam is telling the truth, or a tragedy in which Sam is either playing mind games with Ruby or is insane.

Underlying the story itself is the paradox that the notion of time travel to the past always poses — the question of causality. Namely, if time travel to the past were possible, would the time travelers, either by their mere presence or by their overt actions, change the course of events, change the future.

Donofrio and Tomei

I don’t think this movie did very well at the box office, but it’s a worthwhile property. The story is compelling, Tomei and Donofrio are both magnetic, and there are strong supporting performances by Tovah Feldshuh as Ruby’s mother, Holland Taylor as Ruby’s therapist — a pivotal role, and Nadia Dajani as Ruby’s best friend.

Several years ago, I read a book entitled The Physics of the Impossible by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. In that book, Kaku explored some ideas that have been presented over the years in science fiction literature, films, and TV shows, and organized them according to how plausible they were. As I recall, he concluded that under the known laws of physics, time travel into the past was impossible and time travel into the future was possible, but not likely to become reality for many many years. If you’d like to see a somewhat comprehensible explanation of Albert Einstein’s view of time travel, click HERE.