Friday, April 30, 2010

Book: Expiration Date, by Duane Swierczynski (2010)

Pick up a novel by Duane Swierczynski and you know you’re going to get two things: breakneck pacing and a wild premise. His latest, originally intended as a serial in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, is no exception.

The clock’s run out on Mickey Wade’s journalism career, and is down to the last few ticks on his relationship. Without options, he moves into his grandfather’s apartment in the dicey Philadelphia neighborhood he thought he’d left behind. Hung over after night #1, Mickey pops what he thinks are two ancient Tylenols. And abruptly finds himself in the Philly of 1972, several years before his father would be brutally murdered.

Time travel, serial killers, secret government projects. There’s inventiveness on every page, but what makes the book work – I hate using this word, but it’s appropriate – is its heart. Mickey slowly realizes that his problems are deeper than he thinks, actually going back a generation or two, and he seizes the chance to fix them. Expiration Date calls to mind those early, Night Shift-era Stephen King stories, mad science experiments that combine genres and fuse different pulp energies but keep the action human-scaled. The result is quite a ride, and my favorite Swierczynski book yet.