Time and Again

by Jack Finney

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

Other novels about time travelers:

Blackout by Connie Willis (2010), about a scientific project of the future which sends scholars into WWII London during the Blitz. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Angel Time by Anne Rice (2009), about a present-day killer offered a chance to turn his life around by an angel who asks him to travel to medieval England to save a group of Jews threatened with a massacre.See review or more info at Powell's Books

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp (1941), about a history professor who goes back in time and tries to prevent the fall of Rome. More info

Nonfiction about New York history:

New York 1880 by Robert A.M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman (1999). More info

The Historical Atlas of New York City by Eric Homberger (2005). More info

Old New York in Early Photographs by Mary Black (1973). More info


Inspired by Jack Finney's Time and Again: A Gilded Age Reading List from 1882 New York at the New York Public Library website

Back to Novels of Nineteenth-Century America

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