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From TV personality and radio host Bill Flanagan comes a “funny and sharp” (Rosanne Cash, Grammy Award–winning singer/songwriter and bestselling author) time-traveling adventure novel about how the past never gives up its hold on the present and how even sixty-five-year-olds are still kids at heart.

If you had the chance to live your life over again, knowing everything that you know now, would you take it? Would you still take it if it meant losing everything you had today? Would a second chance to correct every mistake and missed opportunity be worth giving up the world you know and the life you have built? In Fifty in Reverse, fifteen-year-old Peter Wyatt does just that.

In the spring of 1970, Harvard psychologist Terry Canyon is introduced to Peter, a quiet kid from a wealthy family who has been suspended from ninth grade for stripping off his clothes in Algebra class. When Terry asks Peter why he did, the boy explains that he was trying to “shock myself awake.” It turns out that Peter believes he is a sixty-five-year-old man who went to sleep in his home in New York in the year 2020 and woke up in his childhood bedroom fifty years earlier.

Hilariously depicting Peter’s attempts to fit in as a fifteen-year-old in 1970 and to cope with the tedium, foolishness, and sexual temptations of high school as he tries to retain the sense of himself as a sixty-five-year-old man, Fifty in Reverse is a thought-provoking and enlightening novel about second chances and appreciating where you are in life.

Chapter One ONE
The boy read typed directions to his mother as she drove through a suburb inside Boston’s Route 128 halo. They turned right, past the statue of the Minuteman, and parked outside a large white house that was home and office to Dr. Terry Canyon, the motorcycle psychiatrist who had a way with today’s troubled teens.

His mother insisted on walking the boy to the door and handing him over. It was tough on her. She believed that bringing her child to a mental health professional was evidence she had failed as a parent. She brought him anyway. Her love was greater than her pride. She shook hands with the doctor’s assistant and told the boy she would get some coffee and be back in an hour, waiting right outside. The mother was more nervous than her son.

The boy took a seat in a parlor overfilled with small couches, settees, and hassocks. An antique Spanish guitar was mounted on the wall, along with large color photos of southwestern landscapes and Mexican pyramids. Shelves were crammed with tiny Aztec figurines and Navajo masks, a feathered tambourine, and half a dozen clay pipes. A door slammed and a tall man flew into the room like he was launched from a catapult. He dropped a sheaf of loose papers on one of the couches as he came toward the boy, sticking out his large hand.

“Peter Wyatt! I’m Terry! Terry Canyon! Hey, man—good to meet you!”

The boy offered his hand and was pulled into a hug. Terry Canyon was six feet three inches tall, beefy, with thick blond hair rolling over his collar and ears. He wore a tan jacket that might have been skinned from a deer, blue jeans, and an open neck checked shirt. His belt buckle and ring were turquoise, the color of his eyes. He grinned above a large, dimpled chin. He squeezed the boy, let go of him, laughing, and said, “So they’re telling you you’re flip city, huh? Sent you to the witch doctor to get your cranium reconfigured. Ouch. I’ll tell you who I think is nuts, Pete. These dried-up old conformists with their pie charts and statistics and demographic studies who wouldn’t know a moment of uninhibited bliss if it tripped over their wheelchairs. Shit, man. You took off your clothes? So what? Let’s outlaw nature, for Christ’s sake. Let’s write a rule against the human body. I wonder if in fifty years they’ll look back and say, ‘Those people in 1970 were so insane they covered themselves with pieces of colored cloth even when it was hot outside. Why? Because they were ashamed of their genitals.’ How sick is that?”

“It’s nice of you to say so, Doctor,” the boy told him.

“Call me Terry, Pete.” He plunged into an overstuffed green couch. He felt through his pockets and came out with a little cigarette—a Tijuana Smalls. “Hey, you smoke?” The boy shook his head no. The doctor lit up. “Good for you. Bad habit. I’m working my way up from Luckys. So—I’m glad you were able to make the trip up here. You freaked out by this whole thing? You shouldn’t be. Yossarian, right? Catch-22. The only sane response to a crazy world is to act nuts. You feeling okay?”

“Well, Terry, I’m in a pickle.”

“Go on, Pete, tell me more.”

“I’m under the impression that I went to sleep in the year 2020 as a sixty-five-year-old man and woke up a few days ago, here in April 1970, fifteen years old again. I played along for a while. I enjoyed it. Seeing my parents alive, our old house, my school. But the longer this went on the more anxious I became. Why was I not waking up? Had I had some kind of accident? Have I gone mad?”

Dr. Terry weighed the invitation. He did not speak. The boy looked to be a young fifteen. Tall and gangly with a long neck like someone had grabbed a cute ten-year-old under the ears and yanked him until he stretched.

The boy continued: “Whatever was going on I figured was beyond my control. I’d wait it out. But after three days I thought, I have to get out of here. I need to shock myself out of this dream. I considered jumping off the roof, but that might have gone really wrong. I could have ended up still in 1970 with a broken back. So I took off my clothes in front of the math class. Classic nightmare scenario. I thought it would wake me up. Didn’t work.”

Dr. Terry mulled this over. “You gave your actions due consideration.”

“My options were limited.”

“You’re from the future.”

“That is how it seems to me. If it’s a fantasy, it’s a detailed and intricate one. You want to know the history of the Red Sox for the next fifty seasons? They win the World Series four times, but not until after the year 2000.”

“You’re Billy Pilgrim. You’ve become unstuck in time.”

“No, I’m stuck. I want to get home to my wife and children. I want to get home to Starbucks and flat-screen TVs. I miss my iPhone. I’ll never complain about the autocorrect function again. I miss Alexa.”

“Alexa is your wife?”

“No. My wife is Janice. Alexa turns the lights on.”

Dr. Terry got up and walked around the room, exhaling blue cigar smoke. “Look, if I refer to your future life as a delusion, I don’t want you to take offense. It’s just the terminology we use in the trade.”

“Fine with me.”

“Great. So listen, let’s test this delusion. Okay?”

“Fire away.”

“Who are the presidents of the United States from now until your time?”

“Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush one, Clinton, Bush two, Obama, Trump.”

“Wait—you’re telling me Ronald Reagan becomes president?”

“Two terms—1981 to 1989.”

“Pete, he’ll be a hundred years old in 1989. Wait, let me get some paper, I should write this down.”

The boy went through the list again. The doctor took notes. He said, “Can you tell me the vice presidents?”

“Yeah, let me think. Agnew, Ford, Rockefeller—”

“Nelson Rockefeller?”

“For about two years.”


“Agnew gets arrested for taking bribes and Gerald Ford replaces him as Nixon’s VP. Then when Nixon resigns…”

“Nixon resigns?”

“Under threat of impeachment.”

“I love this.”

“Ford becomes president and appoints Rockefeller, then Ford is beaten by Jimmy Carter.”

“Jimmy?” Dr. Terry was writing as fast as he could.

“Carter’s vice president was Mondale. Reagan has George Bush Senior, who succeeds Reagan and picks as his VP Dan Quayle…”

“Now you’re just making up names.”

“Bush and Quayle were followed by Clinton and Gore, who were followed by Bush Junior and Cheney…”

“Bush Junior?”

“There are a lot of Bushes. Who are followed by Obama and Biden. Then comes Trump. If I tell you about Trump, you’ll have me committed.”

Dr. Terry studied his papers. “Right. Okay. Can we do an experiment, Pete?”


“I’m going to jumble up these presidents you gave me and see if you remember them the same way. Cool?”

“Yeah, sure.”

For the next ten minutes Dr. Terry asked the boy which president Mr. Gore served under, what years Ford came and went, who succeeded and preceded Clinton—he zigzagged up and down the list trying to throw him off. The boy didn’t make any mistakes. He didn’t mix up Quayle with Cheney or think that Obama came before Carter. The doctor was impressed with his consistency. He said, “This is a very structured delusion.”

“Look, Doctor,” the boy told him, “we can do this all day. We can talk the next fifty years of sports, music, TV, world events. Get this—Eastern European communism falls in 1989. The Soviet Union dissolves. Nelson Mandela becomes president of a free and integrated South Africa. All kinds of big stuff happens. President Obama was black.”

Dr. Terry walked over to a shelf and studied the bleached skull of a steer. After a minute he declared, “Pete, I’d like to work with you regularly. Two, three sessions a week. How would you feel about that?”

“You’re seeing a book in your future…”

“I’m seeing a remarkable case study, that’s for sure. And listen, man, I studied with Tim Leary at Harvard, okay? I’ve been on vision quests. I am open to exploring worlds beyond our senses. I say this to you in full honesty: I will take this journey with you wherever it leads us. I admit I’m not convinced you’re actually a time traveler from the next century. I’m a doctor, I have to be skeptical of supernatural propositions. But I’m not closing any doors to my own knowledge. If in the course of this expedition you can make it reasonable for me to believe you’re from 2020, shit, I’ll be pleased and excited. I’m not going to con you, and I trust you won’t con me, and we’ll see where this road takes us. You in?”

“I can’t ask my mother to drive me to Lexington twice a week. We live in Rhode Island.”

“One afternoon a week here and I’ll come to you Saturday mornings—how’s that?”

“Sure, Terry. Be nice to have someone to talk to about all this.”


The boy told the doctor, “You can’t be my shrink and say solid. One or the other.”

“Deal.” Dr. Terry leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “Pete—anything we talk about in session is in total confidence. You understand that, yeah?”

“I do.”

“Okay, then. Nothing to do with your treatment, but tell me this. Marijuana. 2020. Legal?”

“Some places, Doctor. Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Alaska, the whole West Coast. It’s getting there.”

Dr. Terry nodded. Peter spent the rest of the hour describing a world without rabbit ears or milkmen. By the time he got to the extinction of cursive writing and cloth diapers, his mother was outside.
Photograph by John Filo

Bill Flanagan is an American author, television producer and radio host. He wrote the novels A&RNew Bedlam, and Evening’s Empire, the nonfiction books Written in My Soul and U2 at the End of the World, and the humor collection Last of the Moe Haircuts. Flanagan hosts the Sirius XM radio shows Northern Songs and Flanagan’s Wake and contributes essays to CBS Sunday Morning. He created and produced the TV series Storytellers and Crossroads and has worked on series and specials for NBC, ABC, HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, PBS, the Sundance Channel, and Showtime. Flanagan has written for Spy MagazineRolling StoneVanity FairEsquireGQAir MailMen’s Journal, and The New York Times. He wrote the 2020 film Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President.

“Bill Flanagan has inherited the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut and written us a sharp, funny, charming novel about the enduring fantasy of living a life twice.  What if we could live knowing what we know now?  And what might happen to those around us?  This is a wonderful comedy with a distinct social undertow."  —Colum Mccann

“A strikingly original novel, immensely enjoyable to read.” —Salman Rushdie

"...there are chapters of lovely insight into the human condition, and wonderful depictions of longing and connection...a quick and enjoyable read, especially if you know Seventies rock."—Katie Stine, Historical Novel Society

“If HG Wells had imagined a jukebox rather than “Time Machine” he might still not have located the humour and the heart in this wonderful tale." –Elvis Costello, GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer

"As a devoted fan of Flanagan’s novels and essays on music, as well as his humor pieces and journalism, I was prepared to love Fifty in Reverse. What I was not prepared for, however, was my attachment to the characters, who have stayed with me like friends, and the seductive notion of time traveling to my own youth, which, on paper, sounds like an exercise in regret, but in Bill Flanagan’s funny and sharp narrative becomes an achingly beautiful revelation with full knowledge of the people you will meet by chance and love forever, the friends who will disappear, the music that will stay with you for your life, and the sacrifices your parents make, unnoticed in the necessary selfishness of childhood.  I also did not expect to find myself in tears as I finished the last page, not from any nostalgia or sentiment, but from a piercing understanding of the trajectory of the lives of parent and child, and the temporality of even those things that feel the most real and permanent. He is a storyteller with a mastery of revealing moments and understated cultural and musical references, particularly satisfying to fans of seminal rock and roll and mid-20th Century history. I look forward to re-reading Fifty in Reverse and reveling again in that moment in time, and the fascinating idea of personal prescience that defines a character, enlightens, and heals." –Rosanne Cash, GRAMMY-Winning Singer/Songwriter and Bestselling Author

"There’s Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. There are classics from Freaky Friday to Back to the Future to Groundhog Day. But when it comes to time travel, there’s always room for more. Bill Flanagan’s version, Fifty in Reverse, is an ode to the golden, if fraught, age of his youth—60s and 70s America—and follows a man well past middle age who wakes up one day to discover he is 15 again."—Tom Freston, AirMail

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