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Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
Jack Finney
reissued with a new foreword by Audrey Niffenegger
trade paperback
480 pages
Touchstone
a review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

Jack Finney's cult classic time travel novel, first issued in 1970, has been reissued with a new foreword by Audrey Niffenegger. I had been hearing about Time and Again for years, and from time to time I thought about picking it up. In fact, knowing me, I probably have a paperback copy of the book somewhere. I don't think I ever realized that Time and Again is an illustrated novel, or that it was written by the author of The Body Snatchers (basis for the science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers). All of which makes Time and Again even more interesting.

The novel turns out to be a blend of genres: part speculative fiction (the time travel aspect), part romance, part mystery, part love letter to the city of New York. But it turns out that the New York City that Finney is really in love with is the 1880's New York, and Time and Again turns out to include some social critique as well.

The novel begins with 28-year-old Simon Morley (known as Si), a commercial artist who is feeling stagnant, being contacted by a secret government organization. After some mysterious conversations, Si decides to risk this adventure: it turns out he is being recruited for an experiment in time travel. Si's recruiter, an army officer named Rube Prien, becomes a trusted friend, and Si builds relationships with some of the other people in the organization: Dr. Danziger andOscar Rossoff. Dr. Danziger, the head of the project, is a sympathetic character who envies Si the adventure of time travel.

The project first offers Si a chance to return to 1901 San Francisco, but Si has other ideas. He wants to visit New  York City in 1882, and he has very specific reasons for wanting to do so. It has to do with a letter owned by Si's girlfriend Kate, an antique store owner and altogether sensible young woman. Kate's parents died when she was two; she was adopted by Ira and Belle Carmody. Kate has a mysterious letter, partially burned, that was mailed in January of 1882. This letter is connected to the suicide of Ira's father Andrew Carmody, a wealthy New York businessman who was also a minor advisor to Grover Cleveland. Si convinces Dr. Danziger to let him time travel to New York City in January of 1882, just so he can witness the mailing of the letter.

If this all sounds rather convoluted, it is and it isn't. As Si explains it "It may be that the strongest instinct of the human race, stronger even than sex or hunger, is curiosity: the absolute need to know." And Si just wants to know who mailed that letter.

The merging of the New York City of 1882 and the New York City of 1970 is one of the more pleasurable aspects of Time and Again. As Si realizes, many of the buildings that were present in 1882 are still present in 1970--one of which is the famous Dakota apartment building. Here is where those illustrations really help, because Finney includes period photographs and drawings of New York and the Dakota. Si is ensconced in the Dakota, in an apartment that persuasively recreates an 1880's era environment, right down to gas lights and period newspapers delivered to Si's door. Si completely immerses himself in the time period. His time traveling doesn't involve any complicated machines--it's all done through hypnosis.

Si successfully time travels several times, and each time he is warned not to interfere with the events of the past. When he returns, he is debriefed. And on one occasion, he has company when he visits the past. But then Si finds himself drawn into the world of the past in a way he could never have predicted. He begins to fall in love with a young woman who helps run a boarding house where he rents a room. And the young woman, Julia, finds herself drawn into an adventure she never could have predicted and almost doesn't understand.

All the usual questions come up in Time and Again: what will the effect be of time travel? Will be future be altered? But Finney also uses Time and Again to raise questions about how we live today (well, the today of 1970) versus how our forebears live. Eventually the question comes up: where does Si really belong?

I found Time and Again to be a really engrossing, fun read. What a combination: time travel, mystery, romance, and unpredictable plot twists. And the ending kept me thinking about the book for quite awhile after I finished it. If you like historical novels or the idea of time travel, Time and Again will probably entertain you and make you think. What more could a reader ask for?

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