Monday, September 20, 2010

But it was a fine and exciting Ladies' Mile, doped-up baby or not

As soon as I read that quote I wrote it down for this post.  And I like it best without context so if you'd like to know what he's talking about you'll just need to read the book.

I've finished up Finney's Time and Again and the book was still a good time my second read through.  I mentioned in my previous post that I've read this before so you can be sure I do enjoy this book.  It has a great mystery of a letter referencing "the Destruction by Fire of the entire World" (317) and what some odd tombstone markings mean.  Even though I have read the book I couldn't remember the details so it was fun to try to solve the mystery a second time around.  Finney manages to tell a convincing story of what life was like in 1880s New York and the book includes pictures and sketches from the time to help give the reader a good idea of the styles of the time. 

I've found with most of my reviews I write about the things I loved about the book, which makes sense since I like all of the books I've read since beginning this blog but it gets a bit redundant to keep repeating gushing reviews.  Keeping this in mind, I wanted to point out a couple problems I had with the novel.

The book feels uneven.  Part of the time the book reads like a travelogue, with Simon just describing 1882 NYC from a 1970s point of view.  Then there's some of the sci fi aspect, with a government agency funding a program to just see if people can go back in time by, well, thinking really hard that they can and then a pretty simple story of Simon observing a letter being delivered.  These 2 parts are a little odd but do work together somewhat, but then suddenly the story takes this dramatic turn to an action and thriller tale. It just happens suddenly and goes on for so long that it feels like it's actually part of a different book. 

Simon isn't a very sympathetic character, in my mind anyway and the problem is I think he's supposed to be.  He's not the anti-hero that's so popular now so I think Finney just didn't create a great main character. The supporting characters, Rube, Julia, Pickering, are all fantastic.  And Pickering certainly isn't likable but he's at least fun to watch.  Simon is arrogant and a bit sexist but it's like Finney didn't realize he'd made him that way.

Here's one other small problem I have with the book, though really I suppose it's a problem with the author.  Finney has Simon bemoan how awful the world is nowadays (well the 1970s) and how wonderful and amazing it was in the 1880s.  I hate this Golden Days nostalgia, the idea that everything was so much better, simpler, happier, blah blah blah back way back when.  The selective memory that leaves out the negative aspects of the past or that forgets the awesome things about today just annoy me.  Eventually Simon does realize that the people of 1882 did have a very hard time and things weren't all sleigh rides and singing around the piano, but he stills sees 1882 as a much better time: "Life [in 1882 New York] still had meaning and purpose in people's minds; the great emptiness hadn't begun" (379).

Overall this isn't my favorite book and I don't know that I'll be checking out much more of Finney's work, but I did like this book enough to read it twice.  Overall the good outweighs the bad, but the bad is still noticeable.

Title quote from page 184

Finney, Jack.  Time and Again.  Scribner Paperback Fiction, New York. 1970.