This relentlessly creative and fast-moving novel opens like a late-night rock-and-roll question: “If you could time-travel to any concert in history, which one would you go to?” In Every Anxious Wave, washed-up indie rocker Karl Bender discovers that his closet is the portal to a time-travel wormhole; with a simple laptop program he and his friend Wayne can transport travelers to any place and time they choose. The two guys start a booming business sending eager rock fans back to see their favorite gigs, albeit with one rule: don’t change anything, and come home right afterwards. But rules are made to be broken…
A lesser writer might let this intriguing concept play out for a whole book. Remarkably, debut author Mo Daviau covers the entire premise above in the book’s first six pages. Things get complicated when Wayne decides to go back to 1980 Manhattan to prevent John Lennon’s murder and winds up stranded in the year 980 instead. Desperate to retrieve his friend, Karl seeks help from talented astrophysicist Lena Geduldig. While trying to retrieve Wayne from the primitive past and revisiting gigs by their favorite 90s indie-rock acts, the two lonely souls discover a mutual attraction.
Karl may be the protagonist but Lena’s really the hero of this tale. Though she sounds from the above like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type (Sexy! Available! Smart! Funny! Talented!), she’s anything but. Her traumatic past and her weight issues give her a certain amount of self-loathing—“smart girls with big noses and belly rolls get overlooked in the game of love,” she says—causing her to pull irrationally away from Karl. After developing her own wormhole, Lena decides to revisit a 1996 Mazzy Star concert and prevent a tragedy that would alter her life. Karl begins to wonder, as does the reader: If you could fix what was broken about a loved one, would they still love you? If you could heal their ravaged past, would they still need you in the present?
I read very little fiction—maybe a book or two a year—so my author references are scant. But Daviau’s writing and tone reminded me of two writers I’ve enjoyed over the years. Her deep understanding of rock music’s ability to inspire and comfort us reminds me of Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). And the book’s furious pacing (there is a lot of story here), cheeky humor, and relentless creativity brought to mind Ernest Cline (Ready Player One). Technically this is sort of a science fiction story, and Daviau does a lot of world-building (the idyllic year 980, a dystopian 2029, the multiple timelines) effortlessly and vividly.
But all this is mere stage dressing for the deeply compassionate story Daviau wants to share. What struck me again and again was the emotional maturity of this story; her characters have complicated souls and are forced to make difficult choices. Basically she asks her reader three difficult questions:
- If you could change your past, what would you change?
- Would that make you happy?
- Are you sure?
It’s not a heavy book—more of a page-turning romp, really—but it is a deep one. It’s fascinating to see how Karl deals with a shocking twist (though not a bad one) late in the story. Will the happy ending he wants destroy someone else’s? And will mankind survive the asteroid headed for Earth? I’m sure the talented Mo Daviau has already been approached for this dazzling tale’s movie rights, but I hope she holds out for an Amazon or Netflix TV series instead—I’d gladly sit through ten hours of Every Anxious Wave.
Thank you to author Mo Daviau for sharing her Every Anxious Wave book playlist with us!
Also, check out the author’s book playlist on Spotify. There are some cool bonus tracks:
About the Author:
MO DAVIAU was born in Fresno, California and proclaimed her life goal of publishing a novel at the age of eight. Mo is also a solo performer, having performed at storytelling shows such as Bedpost Confessions and The Soundtrack Series. She is a graduate of Smith College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan where Every Anxious Wave won a Hopwood Award. Mo lives in Portland, Oregon. Every Anxious Wave is her first novel.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy! We did not receive any money, time travel portals or 90s music memorabilia in exchange for this review.