Reviews of books by Jack Finney

Time and Again by Jack Finney

(Simon & Schuster, 1970)

This is the best time travel story that I have ever read. On several levels, as a time travel story, a historical novel, a mystery, and a love story, it is very well done. But it is in showing us New York in 1882, with all its excellencies, flaws, and oddities, that it is most wondrous. This is what time travel is really about: not killing your grandfather as a boy to see what will happen, or assassinating Hitler in 1936, but meeting the people of other times while they are young; getting to know them and see what they are really like. A few others have tried to do this, but none (to my knowledge) half so well as Jack Finney has done here.

He makes the world of 1882 palpably real with dozens of photographs, drawings, and newspaper articles, all worked seamlessly into the story. And he excels too at describing the people of the time, as alive, and happy to be so, not the monochrome ghosts that are too easy to imagine when we look at old faded photographs.

And not least, his method of time travel is simply more believable than any ten wormholes and time machines, and the very logical limitations that it places on travelling between 1882 and the present makes the story much more interesting and exciting. My father has remarked that it is so believable you almost want to try it yourself.

From Time To Time

(Simon & Schuster, 1994)

This is not, like Time and Again, one of the best time travel stories ever written. That said, however, it is quite worth reading, and shares several of the same excellences as Time and Again though in a lesser degree. The evocative description of the old time to which the hero travels is very nearly as well done as the earlier book, and the arguments about the ethics of changing the past are as thought-provoking as before. The mystery is slight, and fewer characters are shown with such believable detail, but what there is is well done.

Short stories

About Time: Twelve Stories (Scribner, 1998) is a collection that reprints some of the best stories from Finney's out-of-print collections I Love Galesburg in the Springtime (also published as The Clock of Time) and The Third Level. The earlier collections are worth buying, too, if you can find them; time travel is not the only theme Jack Finney does well.

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