But sometimes you really shouldn't revisit the past. Leave a good memory alone and it stays a good memory. But how do you know that until it's too late and you've re-visited a book you once loved and found out it's just...okay. Or, even worse, kinda lame. I don't think you can know, so watch out Hesse and Vonnegut and Fowles and Wouk and all the other writers I loved in my youth: I'm coming your way again. I'm choosing optimism -- the books I loved then, I will love now. I hope.
However, that doesn't change the fact that there will be bumps along the way. And this week's choice was exactly that: a rather slow, creaky, not very unexciting bump.
When I first read Time and Again (#20), back in the '70s, I loved it. New York in the 1880s is my favorite time and place, and the book let me vicariously travel back to 1882 along with the time-traveling hero Simon Morley. I thought it terrifically captured the time I was living in, as well as the time I longed to visit.
|The Dakota in its early years|
A little later, he talks about how Central Park is exactly the same now as it was in 1882, even going into detail about it. But anyone familiar with Central Park history knows that what is now the Great Lawn, a giant oval of grass and baseball diamonds, was originally a reservoir. It remained that way until the early years of the 20th century, when it was filled in. But in 1882 it would have been a giant body of water. Not remotely the same! He also gets wrong the reason the famous Dakota apartment building (of Rosemary's Baby and John Lennon assassination fame) is called the Dakota, but I like that story (because it was so far north of the settlement of New York when it was constructed in the early 1880s that folks said it might as well have been in the Dakotas) better than the real story (the builder was fascinated by Western territories and liked the name), so I'm inclined to overlook that one. Perpetuating falsehoods that are cool is fine.
I could have gotten past all that if the book weren't, sin of all sins, boring. Not stupefyingly boring, not cant-read-another-word boring, but just somewhat boring. As in not very well written. Simon Morley is not a well drawn character, his emotions and affiliations seems to shift without much reason, and the book's action doesn't really get going until late in the tale. Once it does, it's fairly interesting. But it never rises to the heights that, for all these years, I held it in.
|The arm and torch on display 1876-1892|
Time to re-read The Alienist, a much better visit to New York in the late 19th century. Or maybe not. Let sleeping books lie?