Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock won the Christy award last year for Visionary category. Visionary would be fantasy/sci fi. Now I had never heard of this book and yet Ann is one of my favorite authors. So of course I went looking for it and found a different type of book for Ann. It's a book that I did enjoy. I had to get past the fact that it was Ann and I was used to her writing issue-driven books, usually contemporary or historical. In Once Beyond a Time, she kind of combines all of those genres together. This is a book set in the 60’s with parts happening in 1919 and others happening in 2005. It makes for a very difficult plot line to explain.
Meg and Sheldon have moved their family to a small town in Black Mountain, NC. Sheldon has had an affair. It has cost him his job as a pastor and it is almost costing him his family. His teenage daughter is angry and not afraid to let everyone know it. His wife is hurt and unable to forgive him for his transgression. The only one that sees the move as an adventure is his youngest, “Digger.” Digger loves the new house and acreage they have moved to. He is also the first to experience what is wrong with their house. His new friend Mac? Oh, he lived in the early 1900’s and yet he and Digger hang out together all the time.
Each member of the family has a ‘ghost’ friend. One only they can see. One that they can visit with and talk to about what is going on, even if they do not fully understand why they can see each other. As Meg and Linda dig deeper into why this is happening they discover an old folk lore that there are places in the Black Mountains where all of time is happening at once and that is why they can meet people from the past or future. They are told it is God’s gift to them. But they are not sure why.
Okay, I know that sounds like a very strange plot, but it really does work. I found myself drawn into each storyline and really enjoying how they interacted with each other. I also was glad that Ann stayed away from the idea that if those in the past could find something about the future it would make them rich or powerful. That is an old and very tired plot. Instead she used those visitors to help in other ways. They became a sounding board. They became a close friend that had different experiences but yet could be the one who understood the most.
I will admit that I was a bit dubious when I first started the book, but I found myself drawn in and wondering how Ann was going to draw this all together. She does a good job of making sure we understand that time is not the point of the story, but forgiveness. No matter what time or age you live in, forgiveness and grace are gifts from God and we need to make use of them.