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Time and Chance

Time and Chance - Alan Brennert The first thing I ever read by Alan Brennert was "The Third Sex", from The Best of Pulphouse. It was about just that, a person who was neither male nor female. It was a story about love, identity, and relationships, and it lingered with me long after I finished the story. I had actually been exposed to Brennert before then through Weird Romance, which featured another of his stories, but this was the first fiction of his I read, and from that moment forward, I knew he was a writer to read.

Fast forward a few years, when I chance upon a historical novel he wrote about a leper colony on Hawaii called Moloka'i. I took a chance on it, since I knew Brennert could evoke complex emotion in a short story, even though it didn't sound like my kind of story. It's still one of only two books that made me cry (the other being The Book Thief), and if I hadn't already made a mental note to read everything this author writes, Moloka'i would have done it.

Time and Chance is an earlier novel of Brennert's, though it still has that emotional resonance I've associated with his previous works. It's about a man named Richard Cochrane who, thirteen years ago, made a decision to give up the woman he loved in order to go to New York to become an actor. It's also about a man named Richard Cochrane who, thirteen years ago, made a decision to give up on his dreams to become an actor in order to stay with the woman he loved to raise a family. Neither Richard is entirely happy with his decision and the life he's led since then, but time and chance have somehow conspired to allow them to swap places. The story is how they adapt to their new, alternate lives.

What I really liked about this novel is how Brennert took one character and made two characters out of him. Each have the same backstory, the same histories. Their divergence allowed him to examine their lives in different ways, and see how it affected them in their later years. He doesn't make it easy for either Richard to step into the other's life, which is as it should be. Thirteen years after making a difficult decision affects one's personality. The bitter, angry man who resents having given up a chance to become an actor isn't the same person as the melancholy, morose man who regrets having given up a chance at a family. Each character has a challenge stepping into the other's shoes, but Brennert does make it easier for one than the other.

Brennert's talent is in his people, and their relationships. I've noticed also that in many of his stories -- "The Third Sex", Her Pilgrim Soul (as much as I know about it from Weird Romance, at least), and Time and Chance, at least -- he features a troubled relationship, and the ways that those relationships can mend. They're very hopeful affairs, which is a nice antidote to the other kinds of fiction I often read.

Alan Brennert is a treat, and a gem. I haven't read anything of his that I wouldn't recommend without hesitation.