We don’t consider it often, but writing about the past, even in the most straightforward way, makes time elastic. Take The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, for example. It’s a 1983 novel that’s having a renaissance due to Netflix’s acclaimed screen adaptation. (Side notes: I’ve seen one episode so far and agree with the accolades. I also agree with Tom’s praiseful review of the book below and, knowing a bit about chess, can vouch that it handles the game superbly.) Set in the 1950s and ’60s, it was barely a historical piece when Tevis wrote it, but more of one when I read it in the ’90s. People encountering the story now, decades later, will find in it quaint charms and distant echoes that didn’t exist for its author or earlier readers. The book didn’t change, but the times did, and that changes the book…
The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis
Was it a blessing or a curse that Walter Tevis’s first two novels, The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth, were turned into memorable movies? He didn’t publish again for nearly two decades, but late in his shortened life he released a flurry of novels that have developed followings of their own, including the wonderful Queen’s Gambit. In it, Tevis takes what could be a flighty premise—an orphan girl who becomes a chess prodigy—and grounds it in thrilling believability: in the everyday details of the 1960s Midwest, in the complex, driven character of young Beth Harmon, and, best of all, in chess games that turn out, even for someone like me who knows almost nothing of the game, to be both understandable and exciting.
—Tom Nissley, Phinney Books, Seattle, WA (from the Phinney Books newsletter)
What books that you’ve read do you feel have changed as you, the reader, and the times have changed? Are there books you reread specifically for that experience?