Margarita Montimore’s Oona Out of Order is not your typical time travel story. Instead of physically traveling through time, Oona inhabits her body at different points in her life—completely out of order.
Oona is at a New Year’s Eve party, in her boyfriend Dale’s basement, right as she’s about to turn 20 years old in 1982, when everything starts vibrating. Without knowing how, she’s transported to 2015. She lands in her own body but it feels nothing like her own body. Her voice is rough and coarse, her body’s thicker, her hair grayed, her hands worn, her face wrinkled and she feels the effort it takes just to move–one of the many bonuses that come with aging. Oona is now 51 years old and with the help of her assistant, Kenzie, and her mother, Madeline, she’s informed about her time traveling “condition.” To assist her future self, 2014’s Oona has left her a letter explaining the details of what’s just occurred.
Oona spends the rest of the year learning about the modern world. At this point, it’s fascinating to be able to see our modern gadgets through the point of view of someone who doesn’t have any idea what they are — someone who, up until now, has still been using rotary dial telephones. It gives us a whole new perspective and appreciation for the simplicity and practicality that modern technology brings to our daily lives. Oona learns about smartphones, Uber, iTunes, 9/11, among other things. She then does what any of us would do in her place: she googles the lives of her friends from 1982 and finds out what has become of them, including that of Dale, who passed away in 1983 of a stroke.
Naturally, it’s a lot for Oona to take, as she spends her first year acclimating to her new normal, agonizing about the youth that she’s missed out on, hating the body she’s in, annoyed by her mother’s incessant optimism. One good thing that has come from her time traveling is that she’s learned when the best times to invest in the stock market are. It’s in this way that she makes the fortune that keeps her and her mother financially stable throughout their lives.
At the end of the year, Oona, or her essence, travels to another period of her life – back to 1991. In this way, the book moves backward and forward through Oona’s life, while she learns to deal with and adjust to every different season of her life. One in which she’s married. One in which she’s divorced. One in which she’s pregnant. One in which she loses those she loves.
As I was listening to Margarita Montimore’s Oona Out of Order on Scribd, I found it was hard to keep up with my mental notes. There is so much to unpack with this novel, so many themes all braided together within a stellar narrative. It’s not often one finds a fascinating and original story idea that has also been put into words that make it come to life in the most vibrant way.
There are so many elements in this story that open up new perspectives to us, normal people who live our lives chronologically. Montimore excels at reminding us that even while Oona is in a 51-year-old’s body, she’s still just a 20-year-old inside. We mature alongside Oona, as she throws tantrums and as life throws curveballs at her that force her to mature faster than someone living life chronologically.
Oona Out of Order is insightful in the way it demonstrates how humans are always different people at different points in time. We see this stark difference, not just in Oona’s progression through the story, but in the letters and messages Future Oona leaves for Past Oona, who’s always coming up just behind her. Present Oona hates her fate, but Future Oona never tires of advising her to be patient. Present Oona is rash and impulsive. Future Oona always takes a moment to assess and reflect.
Through Oona’s unchronological life journey, we are able to understand the importance of living life in the moment. When we first meet Oona, she’s troubled about having to make a decision about her future, her life choices converging at a crossroads, urging her to make a choice. Ultimately, these life decisions she struggles with become moot. Once she’s traveled 31 years into the future, the choice will cease to matter.
Oona Out of Order teaches an important lesson about hanging on too tightly to plans and outcomes, to the intangible idea of what our lives should look like, and the importance of allowing life to just unfold. It’s not until Oona begins to understand that she has no control over anything (no more than the rest of us chronologicals do) that she finally begins to just enjoy her life. It’s when she begins to accept life with all its imperfections that she begins to ease into life and she begins to let go of the need to control, of the anguish that we all bring on to ourselves when things don’t work out the way we want.
Nothing is permanent. Nothing is under control. Montimore has crafted a story equally enchanting and inspirational, entertaining from beginning to end, with a modern voice that is light and fun as well as deep and contemplative. Oona Out of Order is a gift from every side and definitely a story that will likely outstand the test of time by its flawless style and deep existential themes.