TITLE: A Reunion with Reunion AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 20, 2007 7:38 PM DESC: ----- BODY: My 25th high school reunion is next month. (I can just hear the pencils at work as students, current and former, figure out just how old I am.) So I took this opportunity to re-read Alan Lightman's novel Reunion, which is about a college professor's 30th college reunion. I first read this book when it came out several years ago, but the theme was more timely this time around. I first learned about Lightman, a physicist-turned-novelist whose fact and fiction both rest on a physics foundation, from an endnote in David Bodanis's E=mc2, which referred me to Einstein's Dreams, This was an unusual book, only a couple of dozen short chapters, that consisted of a few fictional vignettes of Einstein's thinking and discussion with Hans Bethe as he reconceptualized time for his theory of relativity, interspersed among twenty or so fictional dreams that Einstein might have had about worlds in which time behaves differently than it does in our world. For example, in one world, time passes faster when one is at higher altitudes; in another, one occasionally gets stuck to a single place in time; in yet another, time moves backward. I found this book delightful, both creative and wonderfully written. The conversations between Einstein and Bethe sounded authentic to this non-physicist, and the dream chapters were both "whimsical" and "provocative" (words I borrow from a literary review of the book) -- what would it be like if different neighborhoods lived in different decades or even centuries? Lightman writes as a poet, spare with words and description, precise in detail. Yet the book had a serious undercurrent, as it exposed some of the questions that physicists have raised about the nature of time, and how time interacts with human experience. Later I found Reunion. It's more of a traditional human story, and I expect that some of my friends would derogate it as "chick lit". But I disagree. First, it's a man's story: a 52-year-old man keenly aware that time has passed beyond his dreams; a 22-year-old man alive with promise unaware that he is reaching branches in time that can never be passed again. And while its structure is that of a traditional novel, the underlying current is one of time's ambiguity: looking back, looking forward, standing still. Lightman even resorts in the shortest of passages to a common device which in other authors' hands is cliché, but which in his seems almost matter of fact. It's not science fiction because it sticks close to the way a real person might feel in this world, where time seems to move monotonically forward but in which our lives are a complex mishmash of present and past, future and never-was. I enjoyed Reunion again and, though it's a bit of downer, it hasn't diminished my anticipation of stepping back in time to see people who were once my friends, and who because of how time works in my mind will always be my friends, to reminisce about back-when and since-then, and what-now. Time's linearity will show through, of course, in the graying of hair and the onset of wrinkles... -----