An (unnamed) New York academic and writer meets one Quentina Elizabeth Deveril (also known as Q), and promptly falls in love. The pair of them start dating, and find they’re just right for each other. Wedding bells look set to chime… until our man receives a note from himself, asking him to meet for a meal. He goes there, to find his sixty-year-old self, who has apparently travelled back in time to warn the younger him against marrying Q. The two of them, his future self says, will have a son who dies young from an inherited illness, and that will destroy Q. The protagonist decides to call the wedding off, and moves on with his life – but different future selves keep coming back in time to dispense their advice.
Q is Evan Mandery’s third novel; perhaps the first thing one notices is that it’s written in a rather mannered way that pushes it to one side of reality. This technique leads to some fine comic moments, such as the narrator’s and Q’s date on a bizarre miniature golf course, or the time they go on a protest march against a construction project, dressed in vegetable costumes. It also gives the protagonist’s exchanges with his older selves an effectively deadpan tone. But the same style sometimes leaves events without a full emotional grounding – sometimes Q reads too much like a joke.
The narrative thread of Q is full of digressions on subjects ranging from Sigmund Freud’s study of eels to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; these illustrate the book’s theme of what-ifs and alternatives. As time goes on, our narrator has cause to reflect on what’s important, in life and history; Mandery shows how the most important things are not always what we think they are at the time. The main plot runs like a whirlpool, as the visitations from time travellers become more and more frequent, and the novel heads ever closer to absurdity – until the ending, which is pitched just right, and is really quite affecting.
Any Cop?: Mandery’s style walks the line between annoying and charming, and doesn’t always stay on the right side. But, once you get into the swing of Q, it works. It’s worth a look.