I just finished reading "Time and Again" by Jack Finney - again. It was first published in 1970. I have the 1995 First Scribner Paperback Edition which I read in '95. An adventure in time travel, it's just under 400 pages and that includes quite a few great NYC sketches/photos. Our hero, illustrator Si Morley, leaves 1970 NYC and arrives in a very different Manhattan in January of 1882. He was recruited by a secret government agency. Si was to observe but not influence the course of events, being careful not to mention things that were not yet in existence like automobiles and television and buildings like the main Public Library which took over the space once occupied by the Croton Reservoir. Roughly, the first quarter of the book deals with Si's recruitment and preparation to make the trip back in time. The story heats up once he arrives in 1882. Si's departure point for the past was The Dakota, across from Central Park on Manhattan's Upper West Side. As most know, the building later became famous in connection with the death of John Lennon.
What makes us wish to travel back in time? Is it to be a witness to history? To see the evolution of a famous city such as Paris, Rome, San Francisco or New York? To view firsthand the architecture or fashion of the times? Or is it just to go back to the "good old days"? The good old days were not always so good. While I think it would be fascinating to see NYC before the dawn of the automobile and gridlock, there were issues, one of which the author captured on page 126 of my edition:
"We were at the intersection where Broadway crosses Fifth, and vehicles were pouring from Broadway to join our traffic stream, which was just possible, or to fight their way across it, which was almost impossible. Nearly every vehicle had four wheels and every wheel was wrapped in iron that smashed and rang against the cobbles, every horse had four iron-shod hoofs that did the same, and there was no control whatsoever. Wheels clattered, wood groaned, chains rattled, leather creaked, whips cracked against horseflesh, men shouted and cursed, and no street I've ever seen of the twentieth century ever made half that brain-numbing sound."
And he didn't even mention that other bi-product of horse drawn vehicles.
I'm not going to provide an analysis of the plot since I don't want to ruin the story for potential readers. This post is a recommendation rather than a review. As I've commented elsewhere, my criteria for rating a book, music, work of art, etc., is Chekhovian. (See my post of October 26, 2009 re A Favorite Quote from Chekhov.) I divide all works into two categories - those I like and those I don't like. You can safely gather that if I'm reading a book for the second time, it's a book I like.
Why should anyone read Time & Again or any books I recommend? I admittedly possess no expertise whatsoever. Do you only read books favorably reviewed in the NY Times or some other erudite source? Many of the authors I've really come to enjoy were recommended to me by friends. You're not my friend? You don't trust my judgment? I understand. Then get the book out of the library so it doesn't cost you anything. I would recommend T&A to all readers but especially to those born or currently residing in New York City or the NY metropolitan area. It may also appeal to sports fans, particularly football fans, since the story describes the first known use of the Statue of Liberty play.
You might wonder if "Time and Again" was a bestseller. You don't have to travel back to 1970 to find out. Although it may have been on the bestseller list during that year, it was not in the top ten for fiction best sellers of 1970 according to the book "80 years of Best Sellers, 1895 - 1975" by Alice Payne Hackett and James Henry Burke. (There were previous volumes, 50, 60 and 70 Years of Best Sellers.)
Here's the 1970 Top Ten for Fiction:
1. Love Story - Erich Segal
2. The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles
3. Islands in the Stream - Ernest Hemingway
4. The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
5. Great Lion of God - Taylor Caldwell
6. QB VII - Leon Uris
7. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
8. The Secret Woman - Victoria Holt
9. Travels with My Aunt - Graham Greene
10. Rich Man, Poor Man - Irwin Shaw
I've read numbers 2, 6, 7, 9 and I wouldn't consider any of them to be better than Time and Again. (I also checked the 1971 top ten, just in case Time and Again had significant 1971 sales. The original hard cover edition's publication date was June 23, 1970. It was not on the 1971 bestseller list.)
Jack Finney wrote a sequel to T&A, "From Time to Time", that was published in 1995, shortly before his death at 84. It was good but a notch below T&A. Finney is also known for writing "(Invasion of) The Body Snatchers", "Assault On a Queen" and "Good Neighbor Sam". His short stories are also worth reading.