Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Third Level by Jack Finney

The Third Level by Jack Finney is a book of short stories that I would classify as sci-fi. He tends to lean toward the fantastic, with emphasis on time travel, although this book is not exclusively dedicated to time travel as some of his other books are.

Jack Finney is one of my all-time favorite authors, best known for Time and Again (link leads to my 2014 review of Time and Again) and The Body Snatchers, which has been made into the many Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies. I'm constantly searching for more of his work. He died decades ago and it's difficult to locate his books. I found a used copy of The Third Level in very good condition and bought it earlier this year, then saved it for a time when I was in the mood for short stories and something reliably entertaining. And, it was definitely that. There has never been a time that I sat down to read Jack Finney and came away disappointed.

Some favorites: 

"The Third Level" - In the title story, Charley gets lost in New York's Grand Central Station. After stumbling through lengthy corridors, trying to find the second level to catch his train, he arrives in a mysterious third level where everyone is dressed in historical clothing, preparing to ride an old-fashioned train. He has wandered into June 11, 1894. The narrator confirms this by peering at the date on a newspaper -- one that is no longer in print.

At first, Charley's discombobulated but then he realizes that he would love to see his hometown in 1894. He's heard stories about what an idyllic place it was. He attempts to buy two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois. He'll bring his wife, Louisa, and they'll be able to see Galesburg twenty years before WWI. But, there's a problem. Charley's cash is from the future. Before he can be turned over to the police for attempting to buy tickets with the strange money, Charley rushes away, back through the twisted corridors, and finds himself back in his own time. But, he's determined to find the third level, again. He tells only one person, who is skeptical. And, then one day he finds a letter in his grandfather's collection, dated 1894 in Galesburg, Illinois.

"Such Interesting Neighbors" - Al and Nell have new next-door neighbors and there's something odd about the Hellenbeks. Everything they own is new but their stories about why they have only new clothing don't match up. Ted is excited about a particular book that he bought for only $3 but which could be work thousands, 140 years from now. Ann walks straight into a wooden door and Ted reminds her that doors don't open themselves and she'll have to get used to it. Are the Hellenbeks from a future world?

"Cousin Len's Wonderful Adjective Cellar" - 'Cellar', in this case, is a receptacle and the adjective cellar is at first thought to be a salt cellar. Cousin Len's cellar adds adjectives to the writings of anyone nearby. An extremely clever and amusing story that turns out to be a valuable writing lesson, as well.

Another favorite story, "Second Chance", tells about people from another world, where everything is sunlight and flowers, happiness and health. The hero of the story is told where he can go to acquire a ticket to this world, but he'll only have a single chance and if he blows it that chance is gone forever.

Highly recommended - Although it's not the easiest book to find, if you like short stories that are glimpses of other worlds or hint at the paranormal, you should try to get your mitts on a copy of The Third Level. It's thought-provoking and wondrous, and the fact that Finney died decades ago means the present world as he describes it is itself a world of our past. I always feel transported to another world even in the most common of Jack Finney's stories. And, all are written with skill. "Cousin Len's Wonderful Adjective Cellar" is a fine example of what a pro Finney was.

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  1. A Jack Finney book! I read The Third Level a very very long time ago. Time and Again is my favorite time travel novel, and I've read it over and over again. When I wrote about 11/22/63 by Stephen King, I found an article that "divides time travel literature into five ways people got to the past or future — I added number six, based on my favorite time travel book." You can read that blog post here:

    1. I wondered if you'd read The Third Level, since you're also a Finney Fan. I have exactly one of his books remaining: Assault on a Queen. I may have to read it soon, just because I love Finney so much.

    2. Just read your post and left a comment!


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