Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach Tomlinson
Time and Again is narrated by a character who travels in time from New York around 1970 (the year the novel was published) to the same city in 1882. Si Morley is an advertising artist recruited for a top-secret government project, a so-far-unsuccessful experiment in training people to travel back in time. Despite the potential dangers and the strict ethical rules he will have to follow, Si's curiosity about the past and an unexplained personal tragedy involving his girlfriend make the project irresistible.
Si is warned to keep a low profile, so his visits to the past will not disrupt the present. Inevitably, though, he is forced to interact with the people he encounters in the past, and his life becomes increasingly entangled with theirs. If it's wrong to risk tampering with the past, is it right to do nothing when he realizes people he has come to care about are in danger? Another ethical question relates to the increasing environmental pollution in the twentieth century that did not exist in the 1880s - global warming was not yet an issue in 1970. Though these moral quandaries don't develop into conflicts as intense as some readers might wish, they are thought-provoking.
Tangential sight-seeing excursions into historic New York sometimes push the story into the background, but readers familiar with the city will likely enjoy comparing the look and layout of the present city with its past. Drawings and photographs supposedly made by the narrator liberally illustrate the novel, although leafy trees and women hoeing vegetable gardens while the narrator contends with heavy January snows make the fiction of the illustrations transparently artificial. Readers enjoying these glimpses into New York history likely won't mind much if they stitch fact a bit awkwardly into the fiction. Time and Again is an unusual novel, well worth reading for its still all-too-relevant questions about how, whether and why humans should or should not tamper with the world around us. (1970; new Touchstone edition 2014, 477 pages)More about Time and Again at Powell's Books or Amazon.com