Review: The Mine by John Heldt

While I’ve read my fair share of time-travel stories, for some reason, they always seem to fixate on traveling back centuries rather than decades. The Mine is a refreshing change of pace in this well-tread genre, telling the story of a young man who unwittingly travels back sixty years to 1941. While the world was different enough back then to preclude a smooth transition, it’s interesting to note the contrast in how similar that era really was. After overcoming the initial hurdles posed by valueless currency, Joel settles into his new environment remarkably well. Though the modern conveniences are lacking, the pace of life slower than that we know today, Joel nonetheless is able to navigate the time period smoothly. It was a bit jarring, actually, to find his acclimation period so relatively seamless. After the initial shock had worn off, Joe simply rolled with the flow. I imagine that many of us wouldn’t handle an unexpected time jump nearly that well, yet I believe

The Mine by John Heldt

that Heldt meant to portray Joel’s reaction so for a reason. I don’t tend to read much third-person narration, as I like to know what’s going on inside a character’s head. I’m keen to witness the thought process as it evolves, rather than view events objectively from a third party narrator. Readers have barely begun to form an impression of the main character before he gets sucked back in time, though what we have learned paints him as rather a smooth operator. Perhaps Heldt intended for Joel’s very lack of reaction to serve as evidence of his character, since little of the narrative is focused on developing Joel’s voice.

Heldt’s writing is really quite good, yet I’m afraid that my enjoyment of the novel was tempered by my aforementioned tendency to read stories told in first, rather than third, person perspective. While Heldt’s concept is an intriguing one, he doesn’t push it far enough, at least not in the direction I would have liked to have seen it take. I am an avowed romance fan, yet Joel and Grace’s relationship dynamic didn’t quite work for me. I would have liked to have seen Heldt spend less time developing this aspect of the story in lieu of more time spent on Joel’s friendship with Ginny. The idea of befriending your grandmother as a young woman, unbeknownst to her, is fascinating. We have all experienced the surreal notion that accompanies the realization that our elders were once as young as we are now. What would it be like to experience youth with your parents or grandparents? More importantly, how would your presence in their lives during their youth affect your future relationship? Would they know of your dual presence in their lives? Would they write it off as coincidence, as senility, as fancy? Heldt hints at the butterfly effect of Joel’s time travel, but we never see any meaningful ramifications.

Overall, The Mine is a good book with a great concept that would have succeeded more had it explored the depth of emotion that its characters promised. Unfortunately, the text only skimmed the surface for me, but I nonetheless recommend it for fans of time-travel fiction, particularly if you’re tired of the standard medieval time-travel fare.

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