by John R. Little
Write a story about a man who ages backwards and you're instantly going to provoke comparisons to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button. However, John R. Little's Miranda takes the premise and goes one better, by having the protagonist quite literally age backwards, essentially living his entire life in reverse, as if God hit the "Rewind" button.
The only thing that doesn't run backwards is the man's consciousness, which gradually adjusts to living each day from end to beginning. And as a reader, it's a bit disorienting too, with dialogue written backwards while our protagonist, Michael Johnson, narrates the story to us. He starts out as an invalid, which in a way for him makes his a newborn, grasping at language and the flow of time until he grasps what is happening. And it's not like he can plead his case to anyone, since he's going back in time and his experiences are playing out as if going forward. Confused? I wouldn't blame you.
While the story is really interesting, exploring free will, fate, identity, and loneliness, the story gets overshadowed a lot of the time by its style. Oh, there's plenty of meat on the bone, but because the aging-backward premise is adhered to in such a literal fashion, it distracted me at times when my focus should have been more on Michael's relationships which come few and far between in the story.
The real heart of the story comes from the title character, Miranda, a woman Michael meets. What makes Miranda so special is the fact that she too is living life in reverse. Neither has no memory of their other when they first meet--which is actually the last time they ever see each other from anyone else's point of view--and they hit it off immediately, relieved to finally find someone who recognizes what the other is going through. From there, their relationship grows in a wonderful balance of experiencing new things and simultaneously reliving things that may very well have happened before.
Throw in Doof the weiner dog, Michael's canine companion through much of the story, and I was pretty much hooked. It's that easy for me--throw in a dog and I'll let go of most of whatever hangups I might have with the story and how it's told. Seeing life with a dog played out in reverse was possibly even more intriguing than the love story between Michael and Miranda, as Michael wanders into a vet's office one day for a reason that escapes him until he sees a dead dog on a table that springs to life, albeit sick and old. Michael, in a weird way, nurses it back to health, though Doof is basically just getting younger as days roll backwards. The kinship formed with Doof, and indestructible love for Miranda, are wondrously told and by the end the poignance of it all really shines.
A bit aggravating at moments, Miranda is likely to be a bit of a chore for readers looking for something more conventional, but it's a story worth reading and if you can stick it out to the end--or is it the beginning?--you'll likely walk away quite satisfied and impressed by John R. Little's writing.