What starts as a quirky story on time travel weaves its way into metaphor. Loss, regret and the aphoristic carpe diem thematically drive the second half of the book. Yu has fun with the paradoxes of time travel which lead to the disjointed reality for his protagonist. Unfortunately, it leads to a disjointed novel as well. How to Live Safely is clever and has some great scenes, like an encounter with Luke Skywalker’s angst-ridden nine year old son Linus. And Yu also has some great lines on connecting his time travel plot device with his theme:
Everyone has a time machine. Everyone is a time machine. It’s just that most people’s machines are broken. The strangest and hardest kind of time travel is the unaided kind. People get stuck, people get looped. People get trapped. Pg. 164.In the end, though, it didn’t seem to connect well. The whimsical story felt too burdened by the sections on regret and the personal story felt too lightened by the fanciful. That’s not to take away from Yu’s abilities. The book is filled with moments of humor and thoughtful insights. It’s just, in this case, the sum is less than its parts.