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The Statesman

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    Time and Again

    Title: Time and Again (399 pages) Author: Jack Finney Published: 1970

    Time and Again is more than a refreshingly original approach to time travel; it is a celebration of a time when the world was simpler, a time when people were happier. Si (Simon) Morley is a protagonist that the reader will have no trouble sympathizing with, as he travels back and forth between the New York of the present (around the time of publication) and that of 1882.

    In charge of the government-funded time travel project, Finney introduces Dr. Danziger, an eccentric man with a brain that may be too big for his own good. He explains Einstein’s theories on time to Morley: “We’re like people in a boat without oars drifting along a winding river. Around us we see only the present. We can’t see the past, back in the bends and curves behind us. But it’s there.” Nothing out of the ordinary so far, right? But when Danziger begins to delineate his own addendums to this theory, things get interesting. He says, “[M]y own tiny extension of Einstein’s giant theory is ? that a man ought somehow to be able to step out of the boat and onto the shore. And walk back to one of the bends behind us.”

    Danziger goes on to express his belief that if a man were to surround himself with an environment that could feasibly exist in the past, then learn to convince himself that he was actually in the past, and finally use a self-hypnosis trick to complete the transition, that man would actually come to in a different age. The project chooses the Dakota Hotel (the same one where John Lennon was shot) for its unobstructed view of Central Park. They reason that this view probably has not changed since the 1880s, and it is therefore suitable for time travel preparation. There are photos of the Dakota (and plenty of other sights from New York, both in the present and 1882) interspersed in the pages of Time and Again. As with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, this provides a welcome bit of distraction and entertainment.

    So, of course, the theory pans out and Morley finds himself in 1882. An illustrator, he returns with several sketches of outdated things and people, in order to prove that he has really been in the past. The government sends him back “time and again” to collect more data and make more reports, but Morley eventually decides that he does not want to play their games anymore. He comes to believe that there is a fundamental difference in the people of the past – their faces seem “brighter.” He begins to think of the government project as villainy. I won’t give away much more than that for now.

    As with any good novel dealing with the concept of time travel, Time and Again must address the concern of what we now call “the butterfly effect.” If someone changes something, or does something differently in the past, how will it affect the future? This is a fantastic discussion topic, and the novel provides plenty of material to mull over as you are reading it.

    If you are interested in American history (especially in New York), writing about the nature of time, or an unconventional love story, Time and Again is probably worth checking out. It’s fairly short and, believe me, hard to put down. If you like it, there’s a sequel out there as well, called From Time to Time, and picks up where this book leaves off. Until we meet again – have fun!

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