Book Review: Time and Again by Jack Finney

Author: Jack Finney
TitleTime and Again
Narrator: Campbell Scott
Previously Read by the Same Author: From Time to Time
Publication Info: Simon & Shuster Audio, 1995 (Abridged)

Having recently reread The Time Traveler’s Wife, I felt compelled to revisit another time travel romance on my list of 100 Favorite Books. The story tells of Si Morley, a commercial artist recruited to join a secret government experiment.  Unique among time travel stories, there is no time machine or magic involved, but Si and his fellow travelers simply use self-hypnosis to open themselves to the past that exists intertwined with the present.  Si travels to New York City in 1882, and one of the great aspects of this novel is the detail that Si provides that really creates a vivid image of time and place.

The book is not perfect.  Despite being published in 1970, Si seems pretty old-fashioned in a casually paternalistic way not all too different from his 1882 compatriots. Neither of his love interests, 20th-century Kate and 19th-century Julia, are all too well-developed, and Si doesn’t seem to have much concern about ditching one for the other.  Si also romanticizes the 1880s while comparing it to the horrors of the 20th-century while overlooking the inequality, crime, disease, and war of that period.

This audiobook version is abridged and leaves out some important parts of the books.  Most significantly, it obviously lacks the collections of vintage photographs of New York that make up Si’s photo essays of 1882.  But there are also a couple of memorable scenes excised, including one where Si draws an abstract portrait much to the confusion of his companions at the boarding house and another where Si’s romantic view of the 1880s is briefly pierced by observing the hardship of a horse-drawn streetcar driver enduring the brutal winter weather.

This book is not as quite as good as I remember from my previous read, but it’s still a rousing time travel adventure and mystery and one of the best examples of its genre.

Here’s my brief review from 2002:

A fun time-travel adventure where the means of time travel is merely self-hypnosis that takes the modern world away. A lot of the novel is fairly plotless as we follow the protagonist Si Morley through the streets of New York in the 1880’s. My favorite part is when Si observes a streetcar operator in the snow and the romantic bloom of a “simpler time” drops away. I think this book could be adapted into an entertaining film.

Recommended booksDoomsday Book by Connie Willis, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and Dreamland by Kevin Baker

Rating: ****