Ken Grimwood

Author of the haunting fantasy novel 'Replay'
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The Independent Online

Kenneth Milton Grimwood, writer: born Pensacola, Florida 22 February 1944; died Santa Barbara, California 5 June 2003.

From 1986, it has not been possible to think of Ken Grimwood without thinking of death. Though he was the author of five novels, each of them expertly crafted tales in differing genres, he is remembered now for one book alone, Replay (1986), a complex fantasy whose protagonist dies at 43, and is reborn into his 18-year-old self, who lives a different better life to the age of 43 when he dies again, and lives another life, and dies again.

Replay won a World Fantasy Award in 1988, and has been constantly read ever since. In this novel Grimwood manages successfully to combine wish-fulfilment (the chance of living one's life again, without the mistakes that marred the first draft, and with a chance of getting rich on the stock market too) and a haunted sense that in the end some implacable law governs even the universes of dream (for the protagonist soon learns that he is in a time-loop, and that he will always die at the same point in his second or his thousandth life).

But there is no hysteria in the novel (it is most unlike, say, a film like Groundhog Day, 1993, whose protagonist's hysteria, as his one day repeats and repeats, becomes almost intolerable, until its last moments, which very much bring to mind the healing calm of Grimwood's tale). Replay is a story adult readers take to bed with them to solace their dreams; it is a grown-up daydream about having a second chance in life.

Kenneth Milton Greenwood did not come to Replay young. He was born in 1944 in Pensacola, Florida, where the surviving members of his family continue to live; he was educated at Bard College, and moved to California, where he worked in radio and wrote three early novels, none of which made much impact, though each of them prefigured the concerns brought to a head in Replay.

Each of them engaged in the fantastic: Breakthrough (1976) being a time-travel fantasy; Elise (1979) a study of immortality; and The Voice Outside (1982) concerned with a theme - telepathy - that few professional genre writers paid much attention to that late in the 20th century.

One novel followed Replay, Into the Deep (1995), which exhibits a choking nostalgia similar to that which mars another tale about dolphins by a southern writer, The Goat Without Horns (1971) by Thomas Burnett Swann. Poignancy, as in Swann's case, or in the much more famous Ray Bradbury's case, can overscent a tale; but Grimwood had more control than those writers. Replay haunts because it does not coddle.

Ken Grimwood's death in Santa Barbara, apparently of a heart attack, came as he was preparing a sequel to his greatest success. It is hard, however, to conceive that Replay could ever have benefited from a second chance.

John Clute