Of course, this book seems guaranteed to set off a lot of my kneejerk warning signals. There's the metafictional title, with its suggestion that the author feels superior to regular old science fiction, a feeling reinforced by the pop art array of ray guns on the cover. There's the self-consciousness of naming the narrator Charles Yu. (It's hard for me to get too critical when I've written a story called "Anthony Ha Goes to Hell".)
And yet, most of it works. Within a few pages, the protagonist's name feels like a natural choice, not an affectation. (It helps that the character isn't Charles-Yu-the-author, but rather a parallel universe version of the same.) Yu deftly inserts an awareness of race and class into the book without making the book about race or about class (not that there would be anything wrong with that -- they're just not his main concerns). The plotting in the novel's second half is quite clever, tying the vectors of "Yu"'s self-discovery together with the time-loop plot in a way that feels satisfying, even moving.
And Yu uses his science fictional conceits and language to bring his characters to life in a new way, one that would have been less powerful in a realistic family novel. For example:
"Our house was a collection of silences, each room a mute, empty frame, each of us three oscillating bodies (Mom, Dad, me) moving around in our own curved functions, from space to space, not making any noise, just waiting, waiting to wait, trying, for some reason, not to disrupt the field of silence, not to perturb the delicate equilibrium of the system. We wandered from room to room, just missing one another, on paths neither chosen by us nor random, but determined by our own particular characteristics, our own properties, unable to deviate, to break from our orbital loops, unable to do something as simple as walking into the next room where our beloved, our father, our mother, our child, our wife, our husband, was sitting, silent, waiting but not realizing it, waiting for someone to say something, anything, wanting to do it, yearning to do it, physically unable to bring ourselves to change our velocities."
However, the language also points to the book's biggest flaw. Obviously, science fictional ideas can hold real metaphorical power, but they should be more than metaphors. To quote Scott Westerfeld on stories (and, um, zombies), "They don't just stand around 'being metaphors' whose sole purpose is to represent things in the real world; they eat the real world." In Yu's novel, virtually all the technological and fantastical armature serves some metaphorical purpose, and that makes the world seem thinner, more solipsistic, like it only exists to illuminate Charles Yu's inner life. For a novel that supposedly spans multiple universes and times, Yu's book feels awfully small.