For all that I did not enjoy the last book below, I loved The Time Traveler's Wife immensely. I had not heard about this book before I stumbled across it mentioned somewhere on some list of books. (I think it was Powells which had a short summary that intrigued me.) On a whim I ordered it, and when I started reading, I immediately knew that whatever the outcome, I could trust the author. The story and the language were delicious, the characters well-drawn and heartbreakingly rendered, and all of that wrapped beautifully and logically in a paradox of what it might mean to time travel and what effects that might have on someone left behind.
There will be minor spoilers from here on, so if you want to read the book, and I really hope that you do, you may want to skip or skim. And anyone who would dismiss a book this well done because it's "genre" deserves to miss the wonderful treat that it is.
This book is the story of Henry DeTamble who, through a misfortune in genetics, is one of the first people known to involuntarily time travel, and his wife, Clare Abshire, who lives her life linearly, always always waiting for Henry. It is the story of their love and their pain and the sequence of discovery of that love, and how strong and determined two people can be when forced to live without one another at times beyond their control, and how they manage. The story is both enchanting and heartbreaking, beautifully done and it haunts me still, even after having read it a few weeks ago.
The author, Audrey Niffenegger (a first time novelist, but a teacher in an M.F.A. program), alternates the narrative between Clare and Henry, where she lets Henry explain what it is that's happening to him and does it with such finesse, that this impossible idea feels grounded and real, mostly because with just a few words, she's already made Henry real for us. There is tension, immediately, because Henry's safety is always in jeopardy, and Clare worries for him for very good reasons; there is also tension there as to when they will really "meet" in "real time" (i.e., the age where they meet first and become a couple, which is a bit odd because Clare as a child has already met the older version of Henry several times, without learning that he was actually going to one day be her husband... when he was younger.) It's a fun twisting on the boy meets girl theme, and the way Niffenegger does it, even though you know they meet, there is still tension because it could all be messed up (Clare thinks) and destroyed by one false step. There is also a moment early on in the book when something terrible has happened and a young Clare is aware that it's something bad, and when she goes out to the scene, an older Henry waves her off, preventing her from seeing something, and the book builds and builds to this moment, this moment we've half-seen and yet haven't really understood, and we are in Clare's footsteps, waiting, holding our breaths, dreading that day that the scene will make sense.
What I found that made me enjoy this book even more is that Niffenegger assumes that her audience is smart. She jumps around in time, giving you just enough clues to keep up, to know what's going on, and assumes you're smart enough to get the concepts without hand feeding you. The logic is remarkably well done (and as someone who has written a story set in a type of time paradox, though not like this one, I can appreciate how difficult both those tasks are -- keep a complex idea logical and keep it clear enough to always allow the audience to understand where they are at that very moment. It doesn't mean you don't raise questions for them which will be answered later -- but you don't confuse them, either. A hard balancing act.)
Mostly, though, the language and the characters are so well done, Henry and Clare have kept on living for me, even after several other books have been read and discarded. The best compliment I can give is that they both feel real and a part of my life, as if I'd known this story from having been a witness, and while I could go on and on about how well that was done, I think it's enough to say that it was haunting and memorable, so go forth, read. You'll enjoy.Posted by toni at July 27, 2004 09:22 PM