Thursday 1:17 PM
Coffeetown Press, 2016
Michael Landweber’s Thursday 1:17 PM is an offbeat coming-of-age story. It begins when the protagonist, Duck, suddenly finds that time has stopped for everyone but himself. For the rest of the book, he wanders the frozen DC metropolitan area, searching for a way to unstop time. And of course, he’s dealing with his own demons: the fresh loss of his mother to cancer, the long absence of his father, complex relationships with his friends and, finally, his own shifting identity.
Landweber has written a book with a Premise. It’s the sort of book that could easily rely solely on its conceit, which certainly does provide much of the story’s momentum. Without a doubt, a large part of the reason why I read the book in only a few sittings was because I wanted to know what would happen with this frozen world.
Still, there is much more to the book than this. Duck is a narrator who keeps us entertained and manages to tug at our heartstrings, too. Thursday is written, loosely and humorously, as a Guide to the Frozen World. Often, Duck addresses the reader directly, and many chapters digress into philosophical or satirical passages about day-to-day life in this world. This is a great form in that it allows exposition to feel fun and interactive, as in this passage about sound:
From this point forward, the only sounds you hear will be those that you yourself make. You can talk and shout and sing and wail. In the beginning, you will make noise just to remind yourself that you are still there. Other objects can make noise. But only if you intervene. You can bang on a drum and the thump is loud and clear. You can break a window and the initial crash is followed by the tinkling of shattered glass on the ground. If you throw a stone into a river, there will be a splash. The author has done all these things and more, because often it is really boring in the frozen world. (10)
These are often thought-provoking and always entertaining – especially funny are the chapters on using the bathroom and on Duck’s strange attempts at unfreezing the world. Once in a while, when the tension is high, these digressions seem to break the flow of the story. Undoubtedly, the most absorbing parts are the points where Duck is heavily present in the narration. He is the driving force behind this story; his voice is compelling enough that he could support a real world coming of age story, no problem.
As the story pushes forward, we learn more about Duck through fairly classic flashbacks. Through them, Landweber builds a cast of intriguing characters who keep the frozen world from feeling desolate for too long. The solving of many mysteries – such as the origin of Duck’s name and the whereabouts of his father – give us insight into Duck himself.
Duck is the real heart of Thursday, and he is always relatable. Often, his isolation feels strangely familiar, as in this moment of understanding in the back corridors of the Natural History Museum:
I sat there for a while, staring at him. Not thinking about much. Thinking about everything. The hallway was blindingly white and the door had no windows. I felt like I had fallen into a psych ward and was just waiting for the beefy orderlies to find us and return us to our padded cells. I was hungry. I was tired. I was a bit nauseous. I was alone. A dangerous spiral of a sudden reverie. For a moment, I believed I could sit there forever. Waiting. (47)
Passages like this one, which at first seem entirely set in this frozen world, maintain an emotional truth. Who, as a teenager, did not feel this sense of isolation and hopelessness? Who, as an adult, hasn’t? Duck is trying to discern intentions, morality and purpose and this, frozen world aside, is how most of us feel sometimes.
Thursday’s premise could not find a more apt niche than the coming of age story. What better way to paint the strange contradiction of being 17? Here is a boy wandering a world where he is the only one able to act. This is the contradiction of this age: a wholly self-centered adolescent mind, that is, at the same time, so engaged with the world and with the future. Duck is a boy who, though he may not be entirely typical in himself and his situation, is just trying to figure things out.
At first, it seems that Duck has been thrust into a sort of strange luxury following his mother’s death. If only we all had such an experience – a chance to figure it out, to stop time or have it stopped for us, and to pause without the world plunging ahead, leaving us behind. But of course, it is not that simple. Though it is frozen, Duck’s world remains dynamic because he is in it, and he is acting upon it. And all the while, the mystery and anxiety remains: will the world stay frozen or will it move again?
And perhaps that is the trick of the book: that Landweber has created a world that at first seems utterly without consequences, and builds it slowly to reveal connection and consequence in the most unexpected of places.