Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By FRANK O SMITH
Imagine that you could go back in time in the 20th century to alter events and thereby change history. This is the premise of J.M. Surra's novel, "Angels and Their Hourglasses." The author sends his protagonist, Ben Ryan, on a flight from Moosehead Lake in 2010 in a biplane that crashes near Springfield, Mass., in 1929.
"ANGELS AND THEIR HOURGLASSES." By J.M. Surra. Quixotry. 367 pages. $17.95.
Although Ryan is unaware of it, his whole life has been in preparation for this journey. His father and grandfather have colluded with someone referred to throughout the book as the "quiet man," who remains a mystery until the end. The reason Ryan is being sent back: To stop the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and consequently the use of nuclear weapons to end World War II.
The broad outlines of the novel are fascinating; the details engaging. Ryan gets to meet his heroes in aviation -- the Granville brothers, who built some of the finest aircraft of the 1930s, including the restored Waco biplane that Ryan crashes. (The brothers are amazed to find that he's crashed one of their own -- only one they haven't built yet.) Later, Ryan meets and befriends Howard Hughes and J. Robert Oppenheimer, and counsels FDR that he's come from the future in an effort to alter history.
Adding spice to the mix is a love story -- actually, two. One is with Katie Lynn, his fiancee and the love of his life in 2010, whom Ryan leaves behind at Moosehead Lake. And the other is with her identical "twin" -- her great-great grandmother -- with whom he falls madly in love in the 1930s. He appears destined, however, to never marry either one. Or so it seems.
Despite the allure of the tale and the fine storytelling, I was nearly put off at the start of this self-published novel by overwriting in the pivotal opening scene that diluted its power, as well as by a preponderance of cliches throughout. In addition, there was a tendency to tell readers about characters' distinctive traits and emotional responses rather than dynamically illustrating them within scenes.
Nonetheless, the story and Surra's ability to tell it are captivating -- especially the interplay between Ryan and Hughes, and also between Ryan and Laney (the love of his life after he fell from the sky). Once the story got going, I couldn't put the book down.
I expect this won't be the last we'll see of Surra. Here's hoping the wait for his next book won't be too long.
Frank O Smith is a writer, ghostwriter and writing coach whose novel "Dream Singer" was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. He can be reached at: