Reviewed by Colleen Turner
When I typically think of time travel stories I think of someone sitting in some sort of machine that they manipulate to transport themselves to some other time and place. But what if all we needed was our own mind to escape to the past? What if each and every one of us, the imaginative individuals who can believe beyond belief that they are in another time, actually put ourselves into a kind of hypnotic state and then open our eyes and actually find ourselves there? And what might we do with that sort of power and the ability to change events of the past to alter the events of the future? These are the unusual and thought provoking questions answered within Jack Finney’s Time and Again, a novel written almost forty five years ago but just as intriguing and fitting for our modern times. With Si Morley as our guide, every lover of escapism can go back in time to 1882 and navigate the many joys and problems that arise from placing ourselves in a time and life we might not belong in.
Si Morley, a sort of every-man, is working as an artist in a New York city agency like every other predictable day when he receives a visit from a stranger who offers him a very peculiar but compelling offer: to join a top-secret government project, a project he has to agree to join before even knowing what it is about or what he will need to do. Agreeing to further testing of his abilities, he discovers that he is uniquely qualified to participate in a program exploring the possibility of time travel, something believed to be possible if the unique individual is able to place themselves in an environment that has gone unchanged since the time in history they wish to travel to and by completely believing they are in fact living in that past time. Si agrees to the project if he can specifically go back to 1882 New York to witness the mailing of a letter that has long been a mystery for his girlfriend’s family. With the project board’s approval Si is trained, outfitted and uniquely placed to best allow him success in transporting himself back to New York City in January 1882. And off to the past he eventually goes.
Under strict orders to be only an observer and not interact with the inhabitants of this strange yet oddly familiar New York, never to make his mark on the people or events in case his interactions could cause disastrous changes to the future, Si finds it nearly impossible to not become entangled with the very real, very captivating people he encounters. But when his feelings for one woman, connected to the mystery of the letter he originally traveled to this time and place to uncover, grows beyond mere observer, he will have to choose for himself what he will need to do to ensure her safety and happiness. And whether he should stay in this marvelous world of the past or go back to his own time.
Time and Again truly is one of the most unique and thought provoking books I have read in quite a while. The detailed and extensive time spent on how the program proposes time travel would work and the intricate and detailed training and work that goes into bringing that plan to fruition makes it seem completely plausible–and this is coming from a very rational and skeptical person like me! On the downside this very detailed and descriptive nature – not only with the details of the program but with Si’s exploration of 1882 New York, street by street – makes the story plod along in parts, slowing it down at times to the extent that my eyes began to glaze over with details.
The mystery behind Si’s girlfriend’s envelope, its cryptic note and the people and events that occurred after the envelope was sent was very fun to follow and I can honestly say I didn’t see the truth behind them coming. While I thought I had an idea where the actions were taking me and tried to account for what sort of consequences might come about from Si’s involvement in the unraveling of the mystery I enjoyed the tiny twists and shocks as they presented themselves.
Finally, the drawings and pictures dispersed throughout the story were absolutely lovely! I found they helped flesh out the story and characters for me and made for a wholly unique reading experience. While I found the romance between both Si and his modern day girlfriend and Si and the woman he falls in love with in 1882 very lukewarm, the individual character development was very detailed and the pictures attributed to each person made them feel very real and allowed me to feel more invested in their situations.
Time and Again is a love story of sorts to the imagination and to every reader’s ability to “travel” to whatever time and place their books take them. While I adored going along with Si on his adventure to the past I believe the journey’s retelling would have benefitted from some trimming. That being said, I am still very excited to read the sequel to this book and to see what other adventures Si might go on.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.