The Man Who Grew Young

Words by Daniel Quinn and Illustrations by Tim Eldred

 Deja Vu: Humanity in Reverse

a review by Reason Wilken

At some point in our lives, most of us have wished that we could do things again. If we could just go back to childhood for a ‘do-over’, what would we change? If given a second chance, we might have made different (and perhaps better) choices with regard to our lifestyles and goals. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and life would certainly have been easier if we could have known the consequences of our actions beforehand. Daniel Quinn’s latest novel “The Man Who Grew Young” indulges this fantasy. It is the story of a world that is getting younger (and surprisingly, wiser) with every passing day, and of the man that got to do it all again.

The book is written in comic-book style, and reads more like a script than a novel. In fact, it is a script—if one were to make a movie about the evolution of humanity and than press the “rewind” button. Our protagonist is Adam Taylor, who has been selected (unbenounced to him) as “the one who sees with his own eyes the beginning and end of his own kind”. The story opens at the gravesite of Adam’s late wife Claire, but something odd is happening. Instead of lowering the casket into the grave, it is being raised up. This is not a funeral but a “wake”in the most literal sense.

After Claire is “born again”, she proceeds through her relationship with Adam in reverse. Claire gets younger every day, and their son passes from childhood back into infancy and finally to his final resting place in Claire’s womb. Adam and Claire move out of their house back into their old apartment, go on their honeymoon, and are released from their marriage in a backwards ceremony. The couple moves from going steady to their first date to their first meeting, after which they never see each other again.

The world around Adam is changing as well. The global population is steadily shrinking. The air has gotten cleaner, the ozone layer thicker and the forests more abundant. Trucks and factories put tons of fossil fuel and minerals into the ground, and the earth’s resources become more and more abundant. As Adam watches the world pass back in time, he is confronted with the fact that he himself is not changing. He is on that last ship that sails away from North America and is in Europe to witness the dismantling of Stonehenge. Still, he has not found his mother or gotten perspective on where he fits in in the scheme of life.

Though Adam does eventually find his true mother, it is in a rather unexpected way. The identity of Adam’s mother comes as a surprise to a reader from our generation, a fact that is testament to the amount of work that needs to be done. Ironically, the further back in time the world goes, the more forward-thinking its inhabitants seem to be. The focus shifts from taking things from the earth (such as land and natural resources) to giving them back. The perspective of mankind seems to have narrowed over the years, until only humans are still in focus. As we journey backward in time and see the picture zoom out, we realize how much we have been missing.

While this novel is a comical and fresh look at the course of human evolution, it carries a serious message. If this book were written in the opposite direction, it would simply be another cautionary tale. Cautionary tales about the environment are nothing new, and they are all too easy to ignore when we’ve heard them so many times before. Quinn’s incarnation is far more interesting and effective because it shows how good things once were, instead of how bad they can possibly get. There is nothing quite like remembrance of better times past to motivate change in the right direction. It is a vivid illustration of were humanity has been, and where we must go. Time has been on fast-forward since the dawn of the Agricultural Age, and maybe it is time now to rewind.

 The Man Who Grew Young
 is available in bookstores everywhere and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. You can find links here.

(Reviewed 10-12-01)