DarkEcho Horror
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Book Review

A Shortcut In Time
Charles Dickinson
Forge/ 288p / Hardcover/ $24.95
ISBN: 0-765-303579-8 (January 2003)

Cover Time travel is intrinsically dark. Being trapped in the wrong time is a terrifying thought. The realization that even small acts and very personal responsibility can alter everything is even more frightening. Charles Dickinson's A Shortcut In Time plays on that fear, but it also ups the emotional ante by involving a family rather than a lone individual. Lifelong citizens of the Illinois town of Euclid Heights, the Winkler family finds its beginning in a pivotal catastrophe. Flo Garner, the future wife, and Josh Winkler who will become her husband, are united by a tragedy involving both of their brothers that alters the courses of their lives. Although deemed an accident, Josh knows that a local bully, the malicious son of the town's sheriff, is responsible.

As relatively happily married adults, Flo is a pediatrician and Josh is an artist. They have one daughter, the 15-year-old Penny, to whom they are both devoted. Life is not idyllic -- it never is -- but, for the most part, it's good.

Then, after an August thunderstorm, a wet barefoot girl comes running toward Josh as he picks up twigs and leaves brought down by the storm. This is followed by an odd encounter with a disappearing dog and Josh goes back 15 minutes in time. When he tells Flo of the time travel, she reacts rationally and logically, denying any possibility of the experience. The mysterious girl, Constance, turns up again and claims to have been born in 1893 and was living in the year 1918 before being thrust into her future/the Winkler's present.

The imaginative Josh accepts the impossible and speaks of it freely. Flo denies the impossible. Their clash is exacerbated by the quick public reaction to Josh's claims that immediately and negatively affects her practice. Josh is consumed with helping Constance untangle her personal mystery while Flo never believes the mystery exists. Soon, more than income is threatened as time travel attracts the curiosity of local teens, including Penny. Eventually, it becomes imperative that Josh journey back to 1918 on a rescue mission.

Dickinson sets the scene carefully, placing it geographically in a Midwestern town that is small enough for rumors to run like wildfire, but large enough to retain some anonymity among its citizens; small enough to lack instant mass media, but large enough to adapt and thrive for over a century; large enough to have a documented history, but small enough to provide easy access to it. The method of time travel is simple: a combination of summer thunderstorms and perpendicular paths that "shortcut" through the town. Dickinson then weaves his intricate story with flawless believability and the most human of characters.

The non-genre author of several previous novels, Dickinson is an impressive writer whose last book was published over a decade a ago. Emotional depth, graceful prose, and an indefinable touch of magic tempt one to label A Shortcut In Time a potential classic, but that might tinge this beguiling novel with an air of undeserved mustiness. ("Waves of Fear," Cemetery Dance #43)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.