Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Review: Days Gone Bye by K.A. Spencer

I spend my summers in Upper Peninsula Michigan, not far from Mackinac Island. Most summers we make it over to the Island at least once, although this summer it is unlikely we will given the worry about coronavirus. So when I remembered that this book had been sitting, unread, on my shelves for years, I decided to pull it down and read it, hoping that it would take me to Mackinac on the page.

It’s 1979 and Christopher Allen’s grandfather has passed away in his cottage on Mackinac Island. Christopher travels to the Island to take care of the myriad things that accompany a death. While there, he meets an old friend of his grandfather’s and goes out to Round Island Light, where his grandfather was once an assistant light keeper, to spread his grandfather’s ashes. While there, he hits his head, blacks out, and comes to in 1926 in his grandfather’s body. He has to adjust to life in an earlier time, making friends with his grandfather’s friends and falling in love with a wealthy and beautiful young woman, while always wondering if and when he’ll return to his own time.

In many ways, the plot of the novel reads like a mash-up of Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson (the movie, not the book) and The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser, which could have been interesting but was marred by the writing with such sentences as “Fall signaled the end of the long summer on Mackinac Island.” (p. 20) The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic and occasionally illogical, as if the author forgot to include entire portions of it. He uses many words or phrases incorrectly. For instance, in describing the fact that the cause of a shipwreck would never be known, he writes, “We might never know the real raison d’etre.” (p. 70) Simpler, more accurate language would have been better. I used to suggest that my students read whatever they had written out loud to help catch strange grammatical constructions or leaps of logic and just garden variety typos. This short novel could have benefited from that quite a bit. Spencer has clearly done some research for the story but he felt the need to insert everything he learned into the story, which reads as clunky info-dump rather than fitting organically. And he explains things that need no explanation, such as when he writes, “Pastor Kilmer read from the book, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ a classic 1843 tale by Charles Dickens, as everyone enjoyed dinner.” (p. 63) In addition to the writing difficulties, the plot jumps from one thing to another without the necessary transitions and the characters are barely explored, sharing their hopes and dreams with each other but not the reader. I wish the book had been engaging enough to overlook even one of these problems, but in the end, it wasn’t and I was terribly disappointed with it.

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