Shortcut in Time

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Charles Dickinson's novels and short stories have won widespread acclaim for their deft characterization, humanity, and humor. Newsday described him as "a writer thoroughly in command of his art," while the Chicago Tribune wrote "he can surprise us at almost every turn."

Now Dickinson slips beyond the bounds of mundane realism to create a poignant fantasy that bears comparison to the work of Jack Finney and Jonathan Carroll.

Euclid, Illinois, ...

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A Shortcut in Time

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Charles Dickinson's novels and short stories have won widespread acclaim for their deft characterization, humanity, and humor. Newsday described him as "a writer thoroughly in command of his art," while the Chicago Tribune wrote "he can surprise us at almost every turn."

Now Dickinson slips beyond the bounds of mundane realism to create a poignant fantasy that bears comparison to the work of Jack Finney and Jonathan Carroll.

Euclid, Illinois, is a town of many shortcuts, between houses, through orchards, and across fields. Josh Winkler, a local artist and longtime resident, knows these irregular pathways well, but is thoroughly taken aback when a hasty dash down a familiar walk deposits him fifteen minutes in the past--literally. At first, Josh is more intrigued than alarmed by this accidental time travel. Then a lost young woman appears, claiming to be from 1908 . . . .

As his life, his family, his town, and even history itself begin to unravel, Josh gradually realizes that his only salvation may lie in A Shortcut Time.

Charles Dickinson has written a moving and unforgettable book about the way the past can affect the present as well as, sometimes, the other way around.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Author of such imaginative novels as Waltz in Marathon and Crows, Dickinson is a splendid writer who has yet to reach the audience he deserves. After a decade's hiatus, he edges close to sci-fi in this psychologically rich and engrossing novel about time travel. Reminiscent of Jack Finney's Time and Again, but with its own distinctive flair, the story begins with a subtle, clever twist on time-travel tropes. The hero, Josh Winkler, discovers he has the ability to move just 15 minutes backward in time. Unlike previous fictional chrononauts, he soon has his whole small town of Euclid, Ill., talking about his exploit, some believing, most not. Josh is a hopeful if unsuccessful artist. His wife, Flo, is a hard-working, family-supporting pediatrician, and their daughter, Penny, is a typical teenager. After Josh's unexpected temporal adventures, his life begin to unravel. He eventually manages to go back 80 years and encounters a mysterious 15-year-old girl, Constance Morceau, herself an unsuspecting traveler from 1908, whose plight is poignant. The narrative tension increases dramatically as her apparently hopeless situation becomes clearer. The reader shares Josh's highs and lows in a time-twisting game of blind man's buff over which he has little control. Dickinson's trick is intertwining stories, for Josh's own daughter is also transported back three generations, and he learns she will die in the influenza epidemic after WWI unless he can get her out. The conclusion to this intricate and sophisticated time paradox puzzle is unexpected yet logical. This is a low-key gem. (Jan.) Forecast: Dickinson has a chance to attract a larger readership with this new book. His previous novel, The Widow's Adventures, has been optioned by TriStar, with Angela Lansbury and Shirley MacLaine slated to star. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Would you travel in time if you knew that your entire life might be altered? What if you could prevent a tragedy from happening to someone you love? Josh Winkler's settled life changes when he chooses a shortcut to town and ends up 15 minutes in the past. On the same path, he meets Constance, another bewildered time traveler from the year 1908. No one believes them, especially Josh's doctor wife, who orders neurological tests. To validate their experiences, Josh researches Constance's disappearance in the local library's newspaper archives and discovers that Constance's boyfriend, a suspect in her disappearance, was hanged by an angry mob; Constance needs to find her way back to 1908 to prevent his death. The suspense builds further when Josh's daughter disappears on the same path, and Josh finds her name listed in a 1918 newspaper. In a radical change of pace from his more realistic novels (The Widows' Adventures), Dickinson proposes fascinating questions about time, history, and sanity and illustrates how actions, even with the best of intentions, can have dire consequences. Reminiscent of Jack Finney's classic Time and Again, this fantastic page-turner is highly recommended for most public libraries.-Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Going back in time doesn't require multimillion-dollar equipment and flashing special effects, apparently; all it needs is for someone to run down a certain path at just the right time during a thunderous rainstorm. That, at least, is what underpins Chicago journalist Dickinson's fifth novel (after Rumor Has It, 1990), a story of small-town science fiction. Dickinson nods in more than a few ways to the specter of Ray Bradbury by setting the tale in the bucolic burg of Euclid, Illinois, where one Josh Winkler, a dreamer and poorly selling artist who is essentially supported by his physician wife and who, by taking the above-mentioned little dash down an old pathway, gets dumped 15 minutes into the past. After that, things start to accelerate (though never too quickly: this is a 21st-century novel deliberately given 19th-century pacing and atmosphere), initially with the arrival of Constance, a young girl from the early 1900s who took the same fateful walk and is now trying to figure out her new surroundings. Not surprisingly, Josh is fascinated by Constance's story, which his wife steadfastly refuses to believe is anything but a hoax, and, together, the two of them pore over microfiche news stories, trying to piece together whether Constance ever made it back to the past. Meanwhile, reports of Josh's apparent mania have spread through Euclid; people are canceling their appointments with his wife; and teenagers are amassing on the pathways near Josh's house, begging for advice on how to jump into the past or future, just so they can get away from the here and now. A little too laid-back for its own good, though it does rally itself at the end with some unexpected developments to come out agenial little piece of time-travel trickery.
From the Publisher
"An artist able to work magic . . ." —San Francisco Chronicle

"How Charles Dickinson manages to mix his particular blend of wackiness, elegant humor, and rich realism may forever remain his secret."—The New York Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765306395
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 12/17/2003
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,496,595
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Dickinson is the acclaimed author of such novels as Crows, Rumor Has It, The Widows' Adventures, and Waltz in Marathon. He lives in Arlington, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

A Shortcut in Time

By Dickinson, Charles

Forge Books

Copyright © 2004 Dickinson, Charles
All right reserved.

This story began with a broken promise. It began in water over my head. It began with me, Josh Winkler, flying through the streets of the only town I had ever known, Euclid Heights, Illinois, six zero zero zero one.
I was in a hurry because I didn't want to disappoint my kid brother. Again. I was old enough to know that you don't get a lifetime of second chances with people. Especially with people who don't really need you. And Kurt didn't need me. He'd jumped out of bed at dawn to complete an Eagle Scout project with his best friend, Vaughan Garner. They were teaching retarded children to swim and Kurt had asked me to steer the kids back if they wandered away from where he and Vaughan mimed the Australian crawl in the shallow end.
I'd heard my brother get up that morning before his alarm clock went off, heard him wash, organize his clipboard, nudge me, whisper, "Josh, it's time," and hurry away in the dark.
Next thing I knew, mom was shaking me, knocking the sleep out of me, the sun so high it shined on the floor of my basement bedroom.
"You promised him, mister," she said.
The Euclid Heights community pool was next to the American Legion baseball diamond and as I tore on my bike across the outfield grass I looked ahead through the chain-link fence for some sign of my brother, or Vaughan, or the retarded kids, some way to gauge how badly I'd let them down this time. But no one was insight.
Before I could worry or even think about this, Jack Ketch--Jock Itch to those of us who hated and feared him--came toward me on his bike from around back of the poolhouse, riding with his head down, pumping so furiously that a rooster tail of dew sprayed out behind him. He was a flat-topped bully, all blackheads and cruelty. He'd made more boys cry than Old Yeller.
Jock Itch answered to no one. He had the law on his side. His father was Sheriff John "Jack" Ketch Jr., himself the son of a lawman of the same name. Imagination was not a Ketch family trait. Wielding power was. Itch's dad was half again his son's size and treated the town kids--his son included--with glancing disdain, like a lion that had just eaten. In that year, an election year, Sheriff Ketch was running unopposed for a third term.
He gave his son the pick of the town's impounded bikes and that morning Itch was on a spaghetti-tired English racer, his mind--such as it was--evidently elsewhere. I was pretty sure he hadn't seen me. He was producing this weird squeak--like he needed oiling--and we were about to pass each other without incident when he swerved his confiscated bike in front of me. My front tire slid across his rear wheel. I went down head over handlebars.
On my knees, my mouth full of grass clippings, I recognized the squeak he'd been making. It was "Wink. Wink. Wink." He turned up the volume as he circled me. "Wee-ink! Wee-ink! Wee-ink!"
I righted my bike.
"Is Winker all wet now, too?"
He threw something--a small, blue stick--at my feet. I stepped on it without bothering to determine what it was. It snapped under my foot.
I took a step toward him but we both knew it was nothing serious. No one really wanted a piece of Jock Itch. He was bigger and stronger than any two kids, and impervious to pain in that way the thickheaded and unreflective were. That morning his T-shirt was damp and wrinkled, like someone had recently grabbed a fistful of it and held on for a while, then thought better of the enterprise.
"You're too late, Wink," Itch said, then he was on his bike and gone.
Coming up on the poolhouse, I was struck again by how quiet it was. The retarded kids usually made a huge racket. They liked how their voices echoed off all that tile.
At first I thought I was just so late that the lessons had finished and everyone had gone home. It was a Sunday and the pool didn't open until noon. Kurt and Vaughan had been entrusted with a key. On summer evenings, they ran the pool's concession stand. Both of them were slightly small for their age. Vaughan was student council president, tops in his class. He had a smile that he used with kids, a smile with a little of the devil in it, a smile that he kept separate from the smile he used strictly with adults. Kurt liked to build things from scratch and won bets with kids by multiplying four-digit numbers before someone else could figure the answer on paper.
Inside the poolhouse, I saw a sign on the cashier's cage. No swimming. Pump broken.
That explained why the retarded kids weren't there.
But Kurt's bike was chained to a bench.
Shower steam hissed in the boys' locker room. I stuck in my head. One shower was running. I tiptoed across the wet tiles and shut off the water. It just made the place seem emptier.
"Kurt!" I yelled, startled by how scared I sounded.
A towel trolley sat in the center of the locker room. It was about the size of a big, deep bathtub on caster wheels, with canvas sides and a hinged, wooden lid. It was half full, a small mountain of towels piled next to it on the floor.
"Kurt!" I yelled again. "Vaughan!"
The surface of the pool water was absolutely still. The lane floats had been pulled out and lined up along the deck. I went and stood at the entrance to the girls' changing area.
I waited a few seconds, and then entered. Everything in the girls' locker room was the same as the boys' except that the tile floor was dry.
"Kurt?" I said to establish my reason for being there.
My mom didn't swim and Kurt and I had no sisters. Vaughan had a sister named Flo, short for Flora. She was my age, pretty enough, I guess, behind her glasses, but with a perpetual frown of concentration on her face. She was, like her brother, the top student in her class, but being number one didn't appear to give her any enjoyment.
"Vaughan?" I said, in case she was there, searching for her brother, too, and wondering what I was doing in the girls' locker room.
When I finally went back out by the pool, the day had altered fractionally. A cloud across the sun improved visibility into the water. Down in the deep end was a shape that registered immediately as horribly out of place. I hurried around the pool's edge, the blue-on-cream tiles spelling out 5 FT., then 8FT., then 12 FT. The cloud passed. A flash of sunlight off the water made me cover my eyes. I examined the shape at the bottom of the pool indirectly, half afraid to confront what was there.
It was a towel trolley, right side up at the bottom of the pool's slopping floor. Its wooden lid was closed. A baseball-size bubble escaped from it and wobbled to the surface.
Then I was diving down through the water, wishing I'd taken a bigger gulp of air. The water squeezed my head as I went deeper and I felt vital passageways in my brain begin to slam shut. With a final, exhausted kick I got close enough to grab the edge of the trolley's wooden lid. It was varnished and slippery, but I expected it to open easily. It didn't budge. I yanked harder. Nothing. Another bubble--shaken free--broke against my chin.
Then I saw that the lid was locked, a ballpoint pen lodged in the latch. The pen was blue, with gold printing along the barrel. Removing it was easy enough. I tried to put it in my shorts pocket but it slipped out of my hand. When I grabbed for it I lost my grip on the trolley lid and bobbed to the surface.
Someone--a girl--was running from the poolhouse. I didn't get a good look at her. I could only scream--"Ambulance!"--and kick back down.
The water pressure on the trolley made it hard to lift the lid. A school of small bubbles fizzed past my face. The first thing I saw inside the trolley was a blue-white hand. As I lifted the lid higher I saw that the hand belonged to my brother.
I reached out in a panic and grabbed a good chunk of Kurt's cheek and pinched. Hard. I knew he hated when I did that and I hoped the pain and outrage might travel down to whatever cold grain of life remained inside him and make him angry enough to return to me.
He didn't respond. The imprint of my finger and thumb remained pressed into his skin like a dent in clay. He was folded into a fetal position. His eyes were half-open. I was pretty sure he was dead. A million times over the years that followed, I wished that he had been.
I got my hands under his armpits, got my feet balanced precariously on the edge of the trolley, and lifted. He came free easily enough. He was a shrimp, light and cold. A strand of pearllike bubbles trailed out his nose as I carried him toward the surface. I felt a slushy thump in his chest as we ascended.
The girl was kneeling at the pool's edge. She'd lost a high-heeled shoe. The tail of her blouse had come loose and there was a rip in the knee of her nylons. From far away, too far away to be of any immediate use, came a siren. The girl pushed her glasses higher on her nose, then grabbed the back of Kurt's trunks and dragged him out onto the deck, her eyes locked all the time on the trolley at the bottom of the pool.
Then she put her hand on my face and pushed me back under.
"Vaughan!" she screamed.
Vaughan Garner hadn't moved. He reminded me of a kid sleeping in a bed he'd outgrown, his knees to his chest, his toes scratching against the trolley canvas. The only sign of something wrong was the nail of his left index finger jutting out perpendicular from its roots, torn almost off in his panic.
I reached in and grabbed the back of his swim trunks. He came loose easily. He felt inert--empty--as I struggled with him to the surface. I delivered him into a flurry of activity. A firefighter went feetfirst over my head into the water, and then down, not knowing everyone was accounted for. Others worked on Kurt.
The girl in one shoe stood off to the side. She chewed the tips of her fingers, but she didn't cry. I learned soon enough that this was Vaughan's sister, Flo Garner. She had come to the pool when her brother was late returning home.
A spark of life was found almost immediately in Kurt and he was borne away.
Vaughan was taken away, too, finally, but there was no hurry.
* * *
The police interviewed me just once, in our house at 1112 East Collier Street.
"The latch was held shut with a ballpoint pen," I insisted.
The cop held up the pen he was using to take notes. "Like this?"
"It was blue."
"You're sure?"
"Where is it then?"
"I had it and dropped it. Did you check the bottom of the pool?"
"We followed the drain all the way out to the street."
"It had gold writing on it."
"What did the writing say?"
"I don't know."
The incident was ruled an accident, the tragic consequence of two young men just goofing around. Nobody listened when I said that Kurt never goofed around.
* * *
Flo Garner stopped me in the hall on the first day of school.
"How's your brother?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Not great. My dad's already started complaining about the hospital bills."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Did you bring Kurt up first because he was your brother?"
"No. He was on top."
She touched my arm. I thought she was going to thank me for at least trying.
"I wish I could believe that," she said.
* * *
Mom was the only person Kurt recognized. He was an anxious, demanding new presence in the house. A curious, contemplative kid had been replaced by a young man who could not sit still for thirty seconds. He went into the hospital a boy. He came home needing a shave. He prowled the house inch by inch. Then he did it all over again.
Mom grabbed me a week later. "Teach him his address," she said.
"I can't hold him. I can't keep him cooped up forever," she said, like she was revealing a shameful secret. "When I let him out I want him to know where his home is."
It took a day of repetition, but Kurt learned his address.
"One one one two East Collier Street, Euclid Heights, Illinois. Six zero zero zero one." His voice was flat, machinelike.
The next day, he started walking.
* * *
Flo Garner came to our house on the first anniversary of her brother's death.
"Want to revisit the scene?" she asked.
I didn't, not really, but I also didn't want her to leave without me.
As we crossed the baseball field, I remembered something from that hot Sunday morning that I had forgotten almost the moment it happened.
I tried to find the exact spot where Jock Itch had knocked me off my bike. It was easy, once I had the moment in mind. I hadn't given much thought to the minutes immediately before I found the towel trolley at the bottom of the pool. Fifteen minutes, maybe, tops, between when Itch knocked me off my bike and when I hauled Kurt to the surface. It felt like the events happened in two different lifetimes. The details of one never added up to the consequences of the other. Rehashing the details wouldn't change anything.
Then I told Flo to stop.
"What?" she asked.
It was a long shot. An entire baseball season had been played since that morning. The outfield grass had been mowed several times. I started where I fell, in right field. I began to search it inch by inch.
Flo, still straddling her bike, came up behind me.
"Do you think it's horrible of me to have derived some benefit from Vaughan's dying?" she asked.
Without lifting my head, I mumbled, "No, I guess not."
"Because--frankly--since Vaughan died my dad has really been a much better father to me," she said.
I wasn't paying attention. "Yeah?"
"Before--it was Vaughan, Vaughan, Vaughan. The golden son," she said. "He was the doctor-to-be. The star. But now--"
Something sparkled in the grass. I knelt and retrieved a strip of gum foil folded carefully into an arrowhead.
"Now I'm the star," she said. "By default."
"I've decided a star by default is still a star," Flo said. She didn't wait for me to answer. "I'm just as smart as Vaughan. Maybe smarter. But he was the boy."
She didn't say anything for a couple minutes. I walked back and forth over the grass.
"Why aren't you in any of my classes?" she asked.
"Because you're going to be a doctor," I said, "and about all I like to do is draw. Preferably in the margins of my homework."
She didn't laugh.
I expanded the area of my search. When I lifted my head to ease a crick in my neck she was a hundred feet away.
"I do miss him," she called to me. "Don't think I'm a horrid person."
I came back to her. "I don't," I said.
She nodded. "Good."
I followed her nod down from the point of her chin, down her body, down her long leg to the tip of her tennis shoe, which pointed precisely at what I was seeking. It was the barrel half of a ballpoint pen, half of the blue stick Itch had thrown at me.
Printed on it in gold letters were the words
I didn't explain to Flo the significance of the pen. Nothing I said would bring her brother back. Kurt was gone for good, too. And--to be perfectly honest--I was afraid of Itch and his father. So I just put the pen barrel in my pocket and we continued on to the pool. When we got there she held my hand.
Copyright 2003 by Charles Dickinson


Excerpted from A Shortcut in Time by Dickinson, Charles Copyright © 2004 by Dickinson, Charles. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 24, 2012

    Allow me to join the pack...those here and at Amazon who loved t

    Allow me to join the pack...those here and at Amazon who loved the book right up to the terribly abrupt and unsatisfying ending.
    The construction is willy nilly. Some characters are developed; others are sketched. Some things make sense (inasmuch as any time-travel story CAN make sense), while others are totally out of left field. Our narrator's brother is brain-damaged from nearly drowning in a swimming pool when he was a kid. Our hero comes back from his trip to the past to find his brother in fine shape...but then he apparently returns to his brain-dead self again. Very confusing...and very disappointing. Now...if a good screenwriter were to turn this into a well-made movie, I'd go see it in a heartbeat. It's got the potential, but it didn't quite make it.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very Imaginative, But...

    This reminds me of a combination of several novels: 'About Time' by Jack Finney and 'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffeneger. Although I enjoyed the novel as a whole, it ended very anti-climactically. It's as though the author ran out of plot at the last paragraph. If you can get a used, inexpensive copy it's worth the read; if not, don't waste your money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2004

    Truely a wonderful read

    This was just a fantastic read. Characters were wonderful and the sequence of events were right on. Surprise ending indeed. Not what I expected. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    wacky, way out time traveling adventure

    Euclid Heights, Illinois is a very special place because at certain moments when conditions are right, people can go back or forward in time. Josh Winkler is the first to discover this when he goes back fifteen minutes in time. He tells his wife Flo and his daughter Penny but they think he is either or not in his right mind. His wife, a pediatrician, insists he obtain an MRI to see if he has a brain tumor but it comes back negative so they just ignore the whole situation. Life gets more complicated when fifteen-year-old Constance Morceau shows up telling Josh she is from 1908. He doesn¿t believe a word she says and believes the girl is a con artist wanting to rip them off. Josh checks the records and believes Constance. She is accumulating knowledge before she tries to return to her own time. When Constance disappears, Josh thinks the time traveling episode is finished until his own daughter vanishes and he must go back in time to bring her home. A SHORTCUT IN TIME is a wacky, way out time traveling adventure that would make a great movie (similar to Back to the Future but wackier). Charles Dickinson uses the time travel paradox to show that time is fluid and the future can be changed. The protagonist is an easygoing struggling artist who takes the idea of traveling in time in strides. Yet unbelievable as that sounds, he¿s a plausible character and readers will hope that he can find a way to go back in time to retrieve his daughter before she dies in the 1918 flu epidemic. Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    Science fiction without the science

    Time travel with a twist--well-developed characters and a great ending.

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