Both of my parents read, but they generally read different things. So, when both of them are recommending a book, it’s time to take note. Despite that, I just never could get myself around to trying the copy of Time and Again on my dad’s shelf. I’m not entirely sure why, I know I told myself a few times that I really should get around to it, but I never did.

Well, recently the Kindle edition went on sale, so I bought that and read it, decades late. I had not realized it was an ‘illustrated novel’, and had some trepidation as I started reading it with pages and pages of pure text going by, but indeed, all the illustrations and photographs are there and in good shape, if perhaps a bit small on the screen, so no concerns there. Sadly, there are some glitches in the text, which get more common late in the book; more importantly, the Elevated Railway, “the El”, gets rendered as both “the El” and “the EI” throughout the entire book (if you happen to be encountering this in a sanserif font, that’s ‘ee-el’ and ‘ee-aye’), and obviously missed the proofing entirely.

Time and Again is a time-travel story, and needs a little bit of time travel itself today. It was originally published in 1970, and does show that we’ve come a ways in the last 44 years (poof! another hundred grey furs). The attitude to women in the workplace has gotten better, and of course there’s nary a computer to be seen at the beginning in a job that has gone all digital today. The concerns about the world have moved on a bit, and while there’s a fair amount of suspicion about just what a secret government project may get up to, it’s not axiomatic that it will be nothing good, either.

Time and Again is a celebration of New York City, and Jack Finney spends a lot of time bringing it to life in its pages. More to the point, he spends a lot of time bringing the New York of 1882 to life. Both the New York of 1970 and 1882 are there, but of course, the 1882 version needs a lot more work to understand. Time travel in this story involves… ‘letting go’ of everything you know about what makes today today, and filling yourself with the world of where you’re going to. This book is of course a few hundred page exercise in doing exactly that.

At any rate, it is successful on that level, and tells a good story while it is at it. Much of the middle of the book is more of a travelogue in the tradition of the past is a foreign country, and the enthusiasm carries the book out of a somewhat slow start. At the end, it falters again as poorly handled moralizing comes to the fore for about a chapter. Finney (through his main character) is too harsh on the world of 1970; even while he notes the very real problems of 1882, he misses the fact that they were every bit as bad or catastrophic from their point of view as the problems of 1970 are for him. Thankfully, the travelogue and a mystery are the real focal points of the book, and they are served well.