I found reading I Love Galesburg in the Springtime an odd, almost dislocating experience. The well-worn Newton library copy that I borrowed was a first printing — nearly fifty years old. But the thematic thread of nostalgia runs through many of these ten stories, perhaps most bluntly stated in “The Love Letter,” in which the contemporary (early sixties) 24-year old narrator pines for a time he can’t recall:
And in the solid construction of every one of those lost houses in that ancient photograph there had been left over the time, skill, money, and inclination to decorate their eaves with scrollwork; to finish a job with craftsmanship and pride. And time, too, to build huge wide porches on which families sat on summer evenings with palm-leaf fans.
Reading an old book preoccupied with its own past, I felt like Steven Wright putting instant coffee in the microwave: I almost went back in time.
Finney’s ordinary people generally encounter some strange element or occurance that transcends the need for explanation. There’s something distinctly not un-Twilight Zone-ish, about the plots and moods of these stories, but there’s a key difference. Serling and the writers he worked with crafted morality tales, but in “Galesburg” one finds amorality tales. Not immorality tales (although bad apples don’t necessarily get a comeuppance) but not overly concerned with delivering a message either. I was a little bugged by a couple of the protagonists’ attitudes toward women (especially the narrator of “Love, Your Magic Spell is Everywhere,” who gets a pair of comic-book-ad-style X-ray glasses that really work) but in general this volume didn’t require too much historical perspective. (Or maybe I’ve been watching too much Mad Men.) But Finney’s prose is crisp and colorful, and even when his tales clearly telegraph their conclusions, I found most of them satisfying.
At least two of the stories in this book have a connection to Finney’s later work: “The Coin Collector” forms the basis of his novel The Woodrow Wilson Dime; “The Intrepid Aeronaut” seems like an early treatment of themes Finney would explore at greater length in The Night People.
needs more demons? no.