Charles Dickinson, A Shortcut in Time
For the first 100 pages of this book, I thought I was going to give it up, but I persisted and was happy I did: it is a pretty enjoyable time-travel novel.
Josh Winkler is a middle-aged man who lives in Euclid Heights, Illinois. He is a sympathetic loser, a mediocre artist who was lucky enough to marry Flo, a pediatrician with her feet on the ground. They have a thirteen-year-old daughter, Penny, who, to her father’s hidden disappointment, seems more interested in medicine than in Art. A past drama is the cause of the unlikely couple: each lost a brother in the same drowning accident: Flo’s brother died, while Josh brother’s Kurt sustained important brain damage that left him a different person.
Josh is quite content with his rather idle life, when one day, while bicycling on a neighboring path, a strange physical impression and the disappearance of a dog make him wonder. A few days later, during a storm, a similar experience occurs that make him realize he went into the recent past. Astonished by these experiences, Josh tells his daughter and wife, causing the first to spread the news around and the second to suspect that he has a brain tumor.
Soon, a girl appears mysteriously, claiming to belong in 1908. While Josh becomes obsessed with time travel, his wife is more and more weary of what she came to believe is a scam. But soon, these strange events will involve the Winkler family, forcing Josh to meddle with the past…
As I said at the beginning, the first hundred pages (which unfortunately represent more than a third of the novel) are slow going. The narrator remembers uneventful childhood anecdotes and his present is not much exciting either. Of course, most scenes will find a relevance as the story unfolds, but the reader doesn’t know that at the beginning. Then, after 100 pages or so, the story picks up and the reader becomes engrossed in an exciting adventure involving time travel and all its corollaries. Almost everything falls into place in the end.
This book presents two originalities compared to other time travel books: unlike in other novels where they know exactly what to do to achieve the precise result they want, here the time travelers are lost and rather clueless about what they should do, which seems more logical. Also, the story doesn’t unfold as you’re made to expect in the beginning. In most time travel stories, changing the past often results in a single isolated change (the precise desired change) in the future and this always bothered me. Charles Dickinson thought about a lot of the implications of time travel (not all, of course, or he couldn’t have written his novel), and this effort should be saluted. I liked the way these time travel reflections are brought up by various characters.
Another letdown of the novel is the last chapter. It ends so suddenly that I had to check if two pages weren’t stuck together and if in fact another chapter was awaiting me.
During the reading of the book, I wanted to rate it 2 and at other times I thought it deserved a 4. I guess it will be a 3! The author had great ideas but the novel seems like a draft that needs both editing and completing: a very good draft, but still a draft … A Shortcut in Time would made an excellent movie.