Friday, May 16, 2008

Time and Again by Jack Finney

From Amazon:
"Sleep. And when you awake everything you know of the twentieth century will be gone from your mind. Tonight is January 21, 1882. There are no such things as automobiles, no planes, computers, television. 'Nuclear' appears in no dictionary. You have never heard the name Richard Nixon."

Did illustrator Si Morley really step out of his twentieth-century apartment one night -- right into the winter of 1882? The U.S. Government believed it, especially when Si returned with a portfolio of brand-new sketches and tintype photos of a world that no longer existed -- or did it?

This book has been on my list for over a year and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. I really enjoyed it. It's not a romance, but a true time traveler story with a fascinating mystery added to it.

Si Morley is an advertising artist in 1970 Manhattan who is invited to take part in this top secret government experiment involving time traveling back in time. The long and short of it is he agrees to go back to Manhattan in the year 1882. While there he helps solve an old mystery and at the same time brings the reader vividly into the world of the 1880's. Finney's writing is so enjoyable. It's quick paced and vivid. His descriptions suck you in so you really feel like you are there in Manhattan, sledding through Central Park in the moonlight in a horse drawn sleigh, bridles jangling and singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of your lungs. There are lots of historic details, which I found really interesting, one being, I had no idea that the arm of the Statue of Liberty (with the torch) sat in Madison Square for years before it was actually attached to the rest of the statue before it was actually erected in New York's harbor. But, back to the story... eventually, Si must make a decision on what to do with his time traveling dilmemma: stay in the 1880's or return to the polluted world of 1970?

I don't want to spoil all the little details of the book, but one of the most surprising aspects of it for me was how important The Dakota on W. 72nd St. and Central Park West is in the book (and this book was written in 1970, long before John Lennon lived and died there). I happen to know the Dakota pretty well since one of my best friends from college lived there and I've spent a lot of time there. So, it was really cool to have this building described and lived in as it was in 1882 when it was first built. I was able to picture all of it vividly, since the outside and inner courtyard of the building is still just as it was back then. Nowadays it's surrounded by large apartment buildings, but back then when it was built, it overlooked Central Park all by itself. The only other building that was near it, and that was 5 blocks away, was the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West. The two of them looked like these huge monoliths overlooking the park with nothing else around but farmland back then. My book was illustrated with sketches and photographs (including many of the Dakota), I recommend this edition if you read it.

This really was such a good story and ended very cleverly with the solving of the mystery and a bittersweet ending which I found poignant and also a fitting end. Anyone who enjoys history and this kind of a time travel story will love this book - I sure did!


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