Having never read anything previously by renowned author John D. MacDonald, I discovered his 1962 paperback The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything after reading about it in David Pringle’s excellent overview volume Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels. Writing about the novel in that volume, the British critic tells us that it is “an amusing romp,” and MacDonald’s “only full-length fantasy.” There may perhaps be many readers who are surprised to hear of MacDonald being mentioned in the same sentence as the word “fantasy”; after all, he is an author more well-known for almost 50 hard-boiled crime thrillers, not counting the 21-book series featuring his most famous character, Florida-based private investigator Travis McGee, which started in 1964. But in truth, MacDonald was, early in his career, a prodigious creator of sci-fi tales; between 1948 and ’53, he penned almost 50 sci-fi short stories and two novels, Wine of the Dreamers and Ballroom of the Skies. Still, as his only out-and-out fantasy, TGTGWAE should be of especial interest to his loyal fans.
In The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything, we meet an interesting nebbish named Kirby Winters. At 32 years old, Kirby has had only one (disastrous) sexual encounter in his life. When we first meet him, his wealthy Uncle Omar has just passed away. Kirby had spent the previous 11 years traveling around the world and giving away around $27 million of his scientist uncle’s money to undocumented charities, and now the IRS wants to know where the money has gone, as do the heads of Omar’s corporation AND various criminal elements. To make matters worse for Kirby, his only inheritance from Omar turns out to be the gold watch of the title. But what a watch it is! With it, as Kirby soon learns that (If you want to read the spoiler, highlight it starting here:) he is able to effectively stop time for one subjective hour, causing the universe to enter a red-lit stasis; in this stalled world, one hour of subjective time is equal to only 3/100 of a second! [end spoiler] Imagine the possibilities for both mischief and personal gain! An “amusing romp” it surely is!
In actuality, the novel is a fantasy in more ways than one. It is a science fantasy (or what H.G. Wells used to call a “scientific romance;” Wells, as Pringle reminds us, wrote a hoot of a story called “The New Accelerator” in 1901 with a similar plot device) in which a miraculous gadget is created. It is also, most assuredly, a sex fantasy. In the novel, Kirby must deal with no less than four very sexual women: Charla Maria Markopoulo O’Rourke, an international criminal, as well as her gang; Betsy Alden, her blonde, hot-tempered niece; Wilma Farnham, Uncle Omar’s prudish but lusty assistant; and finally, the “girl” of the book’s title, 19-year-old Bonny Lee Beaumont, a backwoods Carolina stripper who initiates Kirby into the world of sex, thrills and fun. The book also strikes the reader as a wish-fulfillment fantasy and a revenge fantasy; indeed, the watch’s unique ability confers almost God-like powers on the increasingly self-assured Kirby Winters.
The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything is a terrific read, filled as it is with interesting characters, great imagination (MacDonald constantly surprises us with how thoroughly he has thought out the ramifications of manipulating time), many amusing lines and even some tough action sequences. Though the central plot device is hardly an original one (besides that Wells story, as The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions, we must not forget the 1923 film by Rene Clair, Paris Qui Dort, in which Paris is accidentally frozen in time by a scientist), MacDonald gives it a fresh spin, combining it with a crime thriller and a comedy. Despite a few missteps (for example, early in the book, it is stated that Kirby’s single sexual encounter had taken place 12 years earlier, but 100 pages later, it is said to have been 13; in one section, Kirby’s lawyer is sitting at his left at a conference table, but two pages later, is said to be at his right), this is a perfectly entertaining novel that should prove pleasing to just about everyone. And really, how can any novel that discusses Ann (sic) Francis’ Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours” be all bad?