The modern fables that make up Bill Ectric’s new collection of stories, Time Adjusters, are difficult to classify, in the best way possible. They seem a comic-book mishmash of science fiction and magical realism, one turn of the screw toward another world. At first, the author paints a suburban landscape where pet baboons chase children through the streets, and we are not sure whether this isn’t our world after all. Readers get multiple perspectives, disturbing our sense of reality further, leaving us with small growths on our analytical minds that may or may not be benign.
And then, Mr. Ectric turns the screw one more time for stories like “Time Adjusters,” inserting elements like an attacking Neanderthal imported through a time gateway. And yet, this still does not happen in a fantastic world beyond imagination, but in the smiling environs of Insurance Co. Often, the real stories take place in a character’s mind, and amidst all this narrative chaos, the reader is led astray. When I read “The Little Robot,” a deceptively simple story about a young boy who uses his robot as a rosary, I had no idea where the story was going. Who knows what could happen — the robot could burst alive or the little boy could transform into a machine. Ectric plays with our expectations, and so when we are left with a sad but powerful story about the human capacity for belief, we are surprised and gratified.
My favorite story in the collection is “Miss Glenly’s Dreadful Room.” It tells the tale of the relationship between a fourteen year old boy and a sixty-seven year old woman. Miss Glenly has a “dreadful room” in her house, and I had no idea where this could be headed, probably ending with the sweet title character’s horrifying death. But when the young narrator pushes through his fears and gives his new friend the keys to conquering her own, I was moved. Ectric had turned me on my head again. These characters were real, and sympathetic, and just like us. We all have dreadful rooms, whether real or imagined, and we all need the support of friends to help us survive them.