This week on The Maris Review, Edan Lepucki joins Maris Kreizman to discuss Time’s Mouth, out now from Counterpoint.
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from the episode:
Maris Kreizman: My favorite thing to talk about with time travel is the rules of it. I’m wondering if you could talk about your rules as an author for how time travel works in your novel and how that works from a craft purpose. And then we’ll talk about your character’s rules for how to time travel.
Edan Lepucki: In my novel, characters can time travel back to moments of their own life, and it’s not, so, it’s not a Back to the Future scenario where somebody’s going back in time before they were born to see their parents and all that kind of stuff. They also are not walking through the past and people are like, Hey, what’s up? How you doing? They are sort of like a ghost on the edge of these memories, but they’re not memories. They’re actually happening and the person who can time travel can both be on the edge witnessing it, but also can feel whatever it was that they were feeling in the moment, and they can kind of know what they’re about to do, as it happens.
So it’s much more, another character in the book calls it emotional time travel, which is pretty much what it is. It’s just how it would feel to be in the past because we all wanna go back. I mean, I want to go back in time and what I really long for is the feelings I felt in that time and place that I can’t get back.
MK: Absolutely. One of the big questions that this novel brings up is like, if you could choose, because the time travels, travelers can basically choose which moment to go back to. Do you have a list?
EL: I would just love to go back to college. I think because it was such a formative experience in my life, I made some, like my best friends there. I lost my virginity in college. I learned how to read in college. I learned how to write in college.
So there’s all these things that I would just love to be in those transformative moments again. and with my kids, I would love to hold them again when they were just brand new. Born stage is so fast and then it’s over.
MK: That I’ve been following on Instagram from day one. The other part of this question is something I really enjoyed, that Ursa and Opal, the two characters who are doing the time traveling in this novel, both create rituals around how they travel through time. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that.
EL: Both characters. It happens the first time when they’re teenagers and it happens accidentally. They’re like, what the fuck’s happening? And then they don’t really feel good afterward. They throw up or they feel queasy, they feel hot. It takes a kind of physical toll on people who enter the membrane.
And so they create these rules as kind of a way to keep themselves safe. So that they don’t do it too often because it can deplete you so badly. And so Ursa, who learns in like the fifties that she can do it, she does it once a month. It starts out that she can only do it once a month because she’s working so much and then later she kind of creates these rules where [she can time travel] only when the moon is full.
And she gets these acolytes that they call the mamas, all these women, and they do it in this special room off of an addition on this old Victorian mansion in the woods of the Santa Cruz County in Santa Cruz County. It’s called the Eastern Wing and it’s like an ugly, honeycomb shaped building that somebody’s rich husband had created for yoga.
And this was in the fifties, when we really had to be either in India or like really out there to be doing yoga then, so they lock themselves up in this room. And over time there’s more kind of theater around it and she uses it as kind of a controlling device to get these women involved because when you are, I don’t know if you know this Maris, but if you are in contact with someone who is time traveling, you feel really good.
There’s like an offgassing that happens, A positive offgassing.
MK: I love that. I was trying to think if there are any other examples of that in, in literature or otherwise, and, uh, it feels new to me.
EL: Thank you. You know, it’s funny, it wasn’t with all kinds of world building in a speculative or fantasy element sort of. I mean, I feel this book is very realistic because I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I like things to be very grounded in reality. But when I am working on something that’s not totally real you’re laying the tracks of the train for the train as the train is coming down the track or whatever the phrase is. And so there were definitely a lot of like, oh shit, the train’s coming. What should I do? And so that element where it was having this outside effect was definitely in revision, I needed a reason for the women to wanna hang out with Ursa.
Like why do they wanna do her bidding? And it’s because it feels so good to be around her. And so they need it like a drug. And also I just wanted to feel like this real world consequence of something that seems really nutty. It was pretty fun to write it. I will admit.
MK: She seems like a fun character to write in terms of like, when we first start reading the book, she’s our heroine. She has this weird time travel thing. She goes to California to start over and we are rooting for her. And then…
EL: I know, I just read, I just read a Goodreads review. Not that I’m reading my own Goodreads.
EL: That was like, at first I hated this book because I hated this selfish woman at the beginning. Everything I write, someone’s always like, this is a selfish woman. But she does become a villain, you’re right. But my goal at the beginning was that you liked her. If you didn’t like her, I don’t really care if you like her, that you were interested in her and you were like, where is she gonna go next? And I want her to get better at time travel and be more powerful.
MK: But then things turn, and they turn pretty quickly. The book is 400 pages and you know, you’re still in the double digits when we start to see her in ways that surprised me because I was used to having a female heroine guide me through, you know? And instead she’s like, I don’t care about your feelings, and I don’t care what the children are doing, and I just don’t care. I have other stuff going on.
EL: Yeah, I pulled one over on you. She originally wasn’t the beginning of the book. She came later, but starting the book with her was so eye-opening to me because before that she had always just been my villain, I didn’t really know her. So it was fun to write and be in San Francisco in the fifties and do the start of a commune. Like that’s just an interesting fictional problem to solve, like, okay, you have to start a commune. How did this begin? But by doing that, I learned about her and I really love her. I mean, I hate the things she does in the book, and I see her as a damaged figure who cannot change, even though she’s faced with these truths of her behavior.
But I care about her deeply because, you know, I saw the things that happened to her. Imagine being someone who was abused as a child, who then ran away to California, didn’t know anyone, and had a time traveling gift. I mean, who knows what you would do. So even though she really frustrates me and I find her reprehensible, I also learn to really love her from that beginning.
Mobility by Lydia Kiesling • Lonesome Dove and Moving On by Larry McMurtry
Edan Lepucki is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels California and Woman No. 17, as well as the editor of Mothers Before: Stories and Portraits of Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Esquire, and The Cut, among other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. Her latest novel is called Time’s Mouth, an intergenerational epic involving time travel.