A young man about to go to war meets a young woman. They fall in love. A reckless, passionate affair follows. It lasts just a week, but it reverberates through six lifetimes.
That’s just one layer of the narrative in a new novel by Austin author Justin Go. “The Steady Running of the Hour” includes a race against time and crosses two centuries and multiple continents – from the drawing rooms of London to the horror of World War I battlefields – through Europe, Asia and the U.S.
It’s a journey that mimics those of the author himself, both in researching the novel and during his own “roaring” 20’s. Go calls it “a flea market of all the things that were in my head.”
The book ponders the difference between fate and chance and the power of myth. “In my own life, I never knew I was going to be a writer,” Go tells Texas Standard’s Emily Donahue. “I had some really powerful experiences after college. Hitchhiking around Europe and just looking for something and hoping that I could find some meaning. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I wanted something more out of my life. When you’re hitchhiking, when you’re on the road, when you put out your thumb, what you’re doing, you can look at it as chance. But you can also look at it as fate. You know, after something happens and someone picked me up in Iceland and I’d be living on a farm. You’d be like ‘was I fated? Was that going to happen, because you had this amazing experience and it almost seemed like it had to happen.”
The book, he says, explores some of the same questions. As the world approaches the hundred year mark since the advent of the first World War, he wonders, Did WWI have to happen? Was it merely chance that led to the assassination of an archduke and eventually, the deaths of millions?
The book’s title comes from a poem by Wilfred Owen [a poet from the Great War].
“I wrote this book inspired by the letters of Wilfred Owen,” Go says. “And then I was in Austin [at the Harry Ransom Center] and I suddenly found out that they were there. And the first time I went and ordered the box and they brought me his letters and I was holding one of his postcards, I literally…it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life… it’s strange but it didn’t occur to me that this is something you’d be able to see in real life.”
Justin Go’s “The Steady Running of the Hour” hits bookstores April 15.