A Small Town Trapped in Time!
When I was a kid, I fell in love with The Twilight Zone. Those thirty-minute episodes promised a road trip into twisted might-have-beens and could-bes. I still watch the reruns every New Year and enjoy them all again and again even though most of them are really dated visually.
The datedness doesn’t matter though. The thing that really hooks me is the what-ifs that get presented. Even reruns catch my imagination. I’m older now. I know more about the world. My thoughts run in different streams, so even familiar stories can offer new ideas based on my personal filter.
Those stories are gifts to creative minds.
Gary Jonas obviously loved The Twilight Zone on some level because Mystic Hollow rings many of the same bells Rod Serling’s love child with alternate probabilities and just a hint of magic that never gets explained.
Melissa Cather obeys her dead mother’s last request and drives to Mystic Hollow to pour Helen Cather’s ashes into a pond. Only when she arrives in the little out-of-the-way town in backwoods Colorado, she discovers her mother’s hometown is stuck in 1973.
Time has stopped there for reasons no one knows. Forty-six years have passed in the rest of the world, but not in Mystic Hollow.
Part of the appeal in The Twilight Zone was accepting the premises and going along to see what happened and what was truly happening. Jonas delivers that in his novel as well. All of the people in Mystic Hollow know they’re trapped in a time loop, but most of them don’t care. They’re okay with living eternally over and over because they can do the same things they always do or try something new and different.
In addition to Melissa and two men, Dennis and Ernest, who are as different as night and day and one of whom is Melissa’s biological dad, readers get to meet other town residents. I loved Julie, the diner waitress, who has been stuck at a somewhat naïve nineteen years of age.
Mystic Hollow is as much a character in the book as anyone else. Jonas has an expert eye for detail and a genuine love of small-town America. Those things show in the descriptions of the buildings, businesses, and even the music playing on the diner’s jukebox. The smells of the diner, the quiet voices and shuffling papers, surrounded me in those scenes.
I’ve never been to Mystic Hollow or met the residents, but they were as familiar to me as the small towns I grew up in and the people I met along the way. Maybe the only thing missing was a bowling alley. When I was in my early twenties, I spent time in the bowling alley with my friends.
Jonas pays attention to his plot too. In a thirty-minute episode of The Twilight Zone, the plot had time to explore a couple of eventualities before reaching the end. This book offers a lot of thinking about what would happen if a town was stuck on repeat. Causes and probabilities were explored in-depth, and I was pulled more deeply into the story of Melissa’s journey and how things would shake out with Ernest and Dennis.
Some of the curtains are tugged away. Others are torn down. Secrets and twisted natures get revealed. Some of these people, present-day residents and others who left, have got some deep and dark agendas.
I hung onto every page, and I still didn’t know what to expect at the end. Jonas doesn’t reveal all his magic tricks, and I was glad. Some things are better left to the imagination. There’s a lot to think about in this book, and a lot for anyone of a certain age who grew up in a small town to think about. The resonance of the relationships and the events last well after the last page is turned.