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Time and Again (book report)

Jack Finney is one of my favorite dead writers. He penned The Body Snatchers, before Hollywood filmed it and added Invasion of. That's a good book, but my favorite by Finney is Time and Again.

It's a science fiction novel about time travel, but with no TARDIS and no time machine. Finney posits that we could travel back in time by thoroughly immersing ourselves in the historical detail. He puts his protagonist into an old apartment building that's almost unchanged since the 1880s, with a view from the window, overlooking New York City's Central Park, that's also nearly unchanged. With the electricity turned off and replaced by gas fixtures, with 1880s-style food and 1880s newspapers delivered to the apartment, and with some hypnosis to magnify the effect, one night our hero goes for a walk and it is the 1880s when he steps out the door.

Finney wrote the book in the late 1960s, pre-internet, and the research he put into it is legendary. His descriptions are vivid, thorough, and accurate, and all the detail never slows down the story, and instead adds to it. It feels like you're there, in New York in the 1880s, with horses on the streets and cops with twirling mustaches and batons, and ladies in enormous hoop skirts. It's a story worth reading, and just marvelously well-written — whenever I re-read Finney, I wish I could write that well, and I've re-read Time and Again time and again.

Fair warning: Finney was born 110 years ago, and he was quite progressive for his time, but reading Finney in our time, you'll find moments of slight racial insensitivity. He's a bit dismissive of women, relegating them mostly to reacting to what the menfolk say or do, but he didn't invent that shortcoming, and he's not the worst offender. Also, while the first few chapters are definitely interesting, it's after that when the narrative starts galloping along and you'll be staying up too late reading it.

 

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