Time and Again

While writing Old World Murder, I needed to mention a novel that Chloe, my protagonist, was reading.  Since my book is set in 1982, I had to reach back in my memory and scrounge for a novel I’d enjoyed during my first year or so at Old World Wisconsin.  The first title that came to mind was Time and Again, by Milwaukee native Jack Finney.  The novel was originally published in 1970.

The current edition of a classic.

Only a handful of friends have read Old World Murder in manuscript form, but two commented on that tossaway detail.  One former interpreter scrawled in the margin, “I devoured that book!”

Time and Again’s protagonist is Simon Morley, who is working in a New York City advertising agency when he is recruited by a mysterious government employee promising the adventure of a lifetime.  Simon accepts, and soon learns of a secret project designed to achieve time travel.  The carefully-selected participants hope to travel to a chosen place and time not by means of a physical time machine, or by tapping into ancient magic.  Instead, they begin by doing everything possible to steep themselves in the history and culture and mores of their destinations.  Then, using hypnosis, they try to take themselves back in time.

Si is trying to reach New York City of 1882.  After ensconcing himself in an old hotel, he struggles to relinquish the present-day.  His final breakthrough comes following a blizzard which forces modern traffic from the street below his window.

The novel is well illustrated with period images, which help draw readers into Si’s adventure.

When I worked at Old World Wisconsin I did not try to travel through time.  Still, one of the wonderful perks of working at such a well-designed site is quiet time in fully-restored historic structures, with no modern intrusions in sight.  On rare days when visitors were few, I was able to imagine myself as farmwife, going about daily chores, seeing and hearing and smelling appropriate sensory details.

Most of the time, this kind of thinking simply helped me better interpret the lives of the women who originally lived in the buildings.  Such opportunities to “just be” in one of the historic exhibits was also wonderful training for me as a novelist.

And every once in a great while, without trying to, I had what some interpreters and historical reenactors call “bubble” moments—tiny snatches of time where everything seemed so true to the period that I briefly forgot that it was 1982.  Time travel?  No.  But infinitely rewarding nonetheless.

It’s no surprise, then, that Time and Again was one of my favorite reads…and that lots of people who are drawn to study or interpret the past also loved the book.

In fact, I just learned that the book earned an entry in Classic Cult Fiction:  A Companion to Popular Cult Literature (Thomas Reed Whisson, Greenwood Press, 1992).  “There has been an interest for some time…in fiction that places modern characters in a historical setting,” Mr. Whisson wrote.  “…The only novel of this sort to acquire cult status, however, is Time and Again by Jack Finney.”

(I’m not sure how I feel about the word “cult”…but it does reflect the book’s popularity in certain circles.)

Here’s the first-edition jacket.

If you haven’t read the book yet, please note:  it has become a a period piece of its own.  Whisson notes, “At a time when altered states of mind were in vogue and drug-induced time ‘trips’ not uncommon, Finney’s fantasy had great appeal.  Young people who felt victimized by an immoral war, an exploitative society, hyocritical parents, and callous leaders longed to ‘tune in, turn on, and drop out,’ and Time and Again was one of the more imaginative ways to do it.”

When I re-read the novel recently, I was also struck by certain comments about gender and race that dated the book in a way the author no doubt did not originally intend.

Nonetheless, it’s still a fascinating read.  In addition to the timeslip adventure, the novel tackles the relationship between past and present, and the morality of time travel and its inevitable impact on the timeline.

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3 Responses to “Time and Again”

  1. writerdd Says:

    Always enjoy your posts. Thanks.


  2. Alison Says:

    As you know, I completely agree.

  3. Liza Says:

    Thanks for visiting our digital library project, http://wisckidlit.wordpress.com/, and leaving a comment! We really appreciated it.

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