Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: From Time to Time by Jack Finney

I read Time and Again back in 1999, right before I moved to New York (thanks to a former New Yorker who insisted it was required reading.) I read it again for book club about 5 years ago. I acquired this sequel at some point in between and finally got around to reading it!

In the first book Si works with some professors and army personnel on The Project and eventually he is one of the few successful people who learned how to time travel. It's a somewhat simple (and yet very complicated) notion related to Einstein's theories of time, that we are harnessed to the here and now by things and our thoughts and the knowledge that now is when we are. If you immerse yourself in another time and eventually truly believe you live in that time, with the help of self-hypnosis, you can be then. In the first book, Si's portal is The Dakota, an apartment building that is in present-day Manhattan and also existed in the 1880s. But now that he has gotten better at it, he doesn't need massive preparations and he can go to the Brooklyn Bridge (actually called the East River Bridge in the 1880s) and go back to "now" (which I assume is still the 1970s although this book was written in 1995 and isn't specific.) He did something kind of bad at the end of the first book and he goes back because he feels guilty and wants to see if what he did has the effect on the future (or present) that he thinks it did.

When back in the present-day, he runs into the army liaison from The Project and he convinced Si that he should do one last trip before heading back to the 1880s for good (he's fallen in love and has a family there.) It's vitally important and ought to be relatively easy considering how momentous it is: prevent WWI. WWI apparently didn't have to happen, could have been averted, and was such a stupid, senseless war that it really shouldn't have been. So off to 1911 Si goes, into the world of vaudeville and the Turkey Trot.

Why on earth there was such a terribly long divergence into vaudeville I surely don't know, other than that the author was intrigued by it and did a lot of research. It's interesting how sometimes we get an overwhelming mass of details and information about things like vaudeville, and other times he'd just mention in passing "though of course I knew, as who didn't, who the sinister and notorious Gerald Montizambert was." (p. 254). Well I've never heard of him. Do I really need a 6-page description of an all-day horse-ride with Theodore Roosevelt, when other things from the past are just tossed off? It felt unbalanced in that.

Also there were a few errors like using "entitled" for "titled" (a big pet peeve of mine), and to me the most difficult to believe (after the whole time travel thing) is that Si, a lifelong New Yorker (I believe, or at least his whole adulthood - I don't remember that detail from the first book all that well) wouldn't recognize what building looks like a ship and "one might sail her up Broadway or the Fifth Avenue." (p. 117). Yes, the Flatiron building didn't exist in the 1880s but he's only been in the 1880s for about 5 years. I've been gone from New York for 7 years and it was glaringly obvious to me. (Yes, I did work in the Flatiron building so I'm more aware of it than most.) For Pete's sake, it is where Broadway and Fifth Avenue cross! It made me think Si was an idiot.

Overall, the book was fast-paced and intriguing, but it does bog down a bit in vaudeville and I was annoyed that he kept calling (to himself) this woman the Jotta Girl instead of her name, and it was uneven. Also, the long-awaited for scenes on the Titanic, which are teased on the back of the book, are only in the second to last chapter so you have to wait a long, long time for that to pay off! It was nice to see what happened to Si, but it was nowhere near as good as Time and Again, and I'm glad it was short and sweet as it certainly was a trifle.

I haven't got a clue where I acquired this book having owned it for over 10 years, but I certainly did not get it for a review.

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