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Si Morley is working as an artist at an advertising agency when a mysterious man shows up at his workplace and asks to meet with him. Ruben takes Si to lunch and offers him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take part in a secret government project–but Ruben can’t share any details until Si agrees to participate.
Si ultimately makes the leap of faith and finds himself leaving the New York of about 1970 behind for the New York of 1882. The secret of time travel has been cracked. In 1882, Si is curious to track down his girlfriend’s adoptive grandfather. The man committed suicide late in life, leaving behind a letter that was decades old and postmarked from New York in January 1882. Si wants to unravel this little family mystery but soon finds himself in trouble on many fronts.
I’m not a fan of New York. To be fair, I’ve only spent one day there and that was the day after my best friend’s funeral; still, nothing about the city has ever appealed to me. That said, Time and Again didn’t work particularly well for me but I think those who love New York and its history will relish it.
I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this book but I do remember that the inclusion of historical photos and drawings from all around New York was what appealed to me. It reminded me a bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in that respect. But I didn’t feel that the art was incorporated very smoothly in Time and Again. Every illustration was accompanied by a passage in the text similar to this real example: “The sketch–just below–is one I’ve made showing our train just after leaving Grand Central Station and the El platform.” It’s the only picture and it shows exactly what the author describes. There’s absolutely no reason to tell me that it’s “just below.” That kind of thing just pulls me out of the story. Also, my copy was fairly old so it was really hard to make out much detail in the pictures. I don’t know if the ink had faded or if the pictures were too old and murky to print well in the first place. I’d be curious to see this book printed on glossy textbook paper.
In addition to real photographs, Mr. Finney also incorporated real events and newspaper excerpts from 1882. I liked that feel of authenticity.
There’s a solid mystery at the heart of the book and the solution surprised me. I guessed pieces of what was going on here and there but I was ultimately surprised when the author revealed the final twist.
In the end, the book took a fairly serious bent and left me pondering themes of ethics and science. Just because we can do something, should we? Who decides these kinds of thorny issues and do they represent the majority of people in the world? Because some science does affect us all and there’s no going back from the knowledge once we broach it.
But the reason that I’ve only rated this a forgettable three stars is because the author got a bit too lost in describing life in 1880s New York for my comfort. There is a plot, and it finally gets pretty fast-paced in the last 1/3 of the book, but the first 2/3 is a long slog of details and descriptions. People who are more familiar with the city than I am will marvel at the locations they’re familiar with and how they’ve changed over the years. The idea of sleigh bells and horses and no cars and no skyscrapers will leave some readers in awe. But that kind of writing for that amount of time just isn’t to my taste. I also felt that the author romanticized life in the 1880s. He briefly mentions diseases and rampant corruption but other than that, he seems to feel that life back then is superior in every way. I’m sure that in some ways it was, but it wasn’t all roses and sweet innocence either.
Definitely pick this up if you ❤️ New York and everything about it but if you, like me, don’t particularly care for the city or pages and pages of description, you might want to give it a pass.
If you liked Time and Again, you might also like my reviews of
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, read by George Guidall
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