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June in the Reader's Den: Time and Again by Jack Finney - Part 2, Discussion Questions

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"It had become habit, leaving the Dakota, to walk out and back into the winter of 1882."

Welcome back to the Reader's Den! I hope you enjoyed taking a trip to the New York of 1882 along with Si Morley, the protagonist in Jack Finney's classic 1970 novel, Time and Again. If you've been reading the book, why not share your thoughts with us through the comments form at the end of the post? There are some discussion questions (which include a few spoilers!) that can be used as a starting point, but don't feel obligated to stick to them. Please feel free to comment on any character, scene or aspect of the book that interests you.

For example, I was intrigued by Si's exposure to 1880s era food, which, we are told, had so much more flavor than the processed and packaged food of 1970, sentiments that are commonly expressed today by organic and local food enthusiasts but would have been heard less frequently 40 years ago. And the financier Carmody's explanation to Pickering of his leveraged economic circumstances could not have sounded more familiar to 21st century Americans. Other things, such as the revolting spittoons and tobacco juice stains to be found everywhere or the warm, familial atmosphere of the Gramercy Park boarding house clearly belong to a bygone New York. In the previous post, I asked if you found Jack Finney's portrayal of life in 1882 overly nostalgic. What's your verdict? Here are some other questions to consider:

  • How would you categorize Time and Again? Is the novel primarily science fiction, mystery, thriller, historical romance? Which elements appealed to you most?
  • Old General Post Office And U.S. Courts., Digital ID 809382, New York Public LibraryThe former General Post Office, where Jake Pickering mails the letter to Carmody. NYPL Digital GalleryTime and Again is an illustrated novel. How did Finney's inclusion of actual period photographs and drawings, ostensibly created by Simon Morley, affect your experience of the novel?
  • In addition to the illustrations, Finney's descriptions of New York in 1882 are highly detailed. Were there any particular moments, places or characters in the 1882 scenes of the novel that you found particularly vivid and emblematic of the time?
  • "And when you awake, everything you know of the twentieth century will be gone from your mind... There are no such things as automobiles, no planes, computers, television. 'Nuclear' appears in no dictionary. You have never heard the name Richard Nixon." What references, dialogue or other details that reveal 1970s attitudes or cirsumstances did you notice as you read?
  • Riding in a streetcar for the first time, Si remarks to the driver, "There ought to be traffic lights." Naturally, the man from the late 19th century has no idea what he means. What anachronistic comments or suggestions do you think you might make on a journey to the past? How would you prepare for such a trip?
  •  Fifth Avenue in 1879, looking south., Digital ID 465504, New York Public LibraryCroton reservoir: Fifth Avenue in 1879, looking south. NYPL Digital GalleryDuring the same ride down 5th Avenue, Si notes sites and landmarks in "a city now completely familiar to [him] and now completely different." He is momentarily bewildered when confronted with the Croton Reservoir on 42nd Street instead of the New York Public Library building (completed in 1911) he had unconsciously been looking for. While Si is missing what has yet to built, when Julia travels forward to 1970, she is dismayed by the loss of iconic buildings in her New York. What present day New York landmarks would you most miss if you traveled back to 1882? Or to 1970? What places define the city for you?
  • "Because no matter how I tried or how complete the detail, I couldn't give them the essence of what had happened to me; the mystery remained." (Chapter 11) If you were participating in Si's debriefing after his first extended visit to 1882, what would you most want to ask him?
  • Grand Central Depot Showing Elevated Railroad, N.Y., Digital ID 801531, New York Public LibraryThe old Grand Central Depot, where Si and Julia evade the "Keystone" cops. NYPL Digital GallerySi experiences magical moments in the past, such as the spellbinding sleigh ride through Central Park after the snowstorm, then during his conversation with the streetcar driver in Chapter 17, he learns something of the harsh realities of life for the less fortunate inhabitants of the city. How does this change his experience of the time. What effect, if any, does this have on his mission?
  • How does the mode of time travel used in Time and Again compare to those used in other stories? If you could hypnotise yourself into another time, what era would you choose to visit?
  • Why do you think Simon Morley is such an adept time traveler compared to others who have tried?
  • If you were part of the meeting to decide the future of the time travel project (Chapter 16), would you support Dr. Danziger's position that any risk of altering the smallest event in the past was too dangerous, or would you subscribe to Colonel Esterhazy and Rube Prien's "twig in the stream" view? What about their subsequent decision to subtly change the course of history in a way favorable to the U.S.?
  • Were you satisfied by the ending and by Si's final intervention? What is your prediction for Si and Julia's future?'

You've finished reading Time and Again and have been forced to leave a cold winter in 1882 and return to a hot New York summer in 2013. Now what? Please tune in for the Part 3 post, which will offer further reading suggestions, whether you're looking for another great period New York novel, a time travel adventure or some historical background. Thanks for stopping by the Reader's Den!

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