12 February 2018

Time and Again, by Jack Finney

Posted by Callan Bentley

In the epilogue to 11/22/63, Stephen King’s time-travel novel, he made an explicit point to laud Time and Again by Jack Finney as “the” time travel novel. I figured I should check it out. Here’s my report. This is a book that was written in the late 1960s, and feels like it. The writing is fine, with a particular strength being its rich, detailed descriptions. The social mores it assumes, however, don’t stand the test of time (I know, the irony, right?). There’s an off-puttingly substantial ration of casual sexism. But that’s in no way the focus of the book; just a filter through which the story is presented. The basic plot is that an artist from an advertising company on Madison Avenue is recruited by a secret military project to go back in time to 1882 New York City, and see if his presence there alters the future. The actual mechanism of the time travel is surprisingly non-specific, but basically seems to rely on the protagonist’s mental state (manipulated by self-hypnosis) in conjunction with a particular building on Central Park West. The world he visits lacks cars, but is rich in horses. It is non-egalitarian, but also full of spark and hope. There are some aspects of New York which remain constant between the two times, and others that are radically different. There is a romance that ensues, and the protagonist must ultimately make a choice as to when he wants to be. One interesting quirk is that it’s substantially illustrated with period sketches and photos, presented as if they were made by characters in the novel. This lends the book an authentic, documentary-type feel. There are several twists and turns along the way, and these are satisfying to a modern reader. As a novel, it’s fine, I reckon. Nothing too amazing (I liked 11/22/63 better), but I liked the unexpected, decisive conclusion.