Daniel Klein’s The History of Now is a novel with a thesis: the least remarkable actions can have massive repercussions. If this sounds remarkably like the premise of the 2004 Ashton Kutcher vehicle The Butterfly Effect, fear not, for Klein’s treatment of the material is infinitely more nuanced and far less–shall we say–Kutcheresque? Perhaps a better point of comparison, then, might be James Burke’s The Day The Universe Changed, the television series that explored the ways in which scientific and social advances of years gone by directly (or indirectly) led to the world in which we live today.
The historical sweep of The History of Now is so grand as to encompass several centuries, yet Klein brings a sense of intimacy to his work by focusing on the small New England village of Grandville and its populace. For example, the then-revolutionary decision of 17th-century housewife Marta deVries to insist that the bevy of guests who stayed in her home on a regular basis sleep in a room other than the one she shared with her husaband is juxtaposed with a depiction of 21st-century movie theater projectionist Wendell deVries reversing that trend by inviting a number of people into his kitchen for a small feast. And in this juxtaposition, we see one tension of many that makes this novel work: that between past and present, tradition and transgression. Yes, we are products of our past, The History of Now intimates, but we are also agents of the future.