I am weird. This is true for many reasons, but in this particular review I will share with you one specific reason. When it comes to purchasing things for my own enjoyment, I typically pass the item several times before actually making the leap to purchase it. This is especially true when it comes to movies, music and books. I think it is because such things are so personal and, whether ultimately good or bad, they become a part of you. They may become linked inextricably to some event or person in your life such that the first few tunes of a song or the advertisement for the movie will bring a rush of memories that may not always be welcome. Books, movies, and music become ingrained in your psyche and influence how you see the world from the moment they enter your mind. It is for this reason that I am so incredibly particular when it comes to the selection of my entertainment. Thus, it is not unusual for me to spend several months looking at a book in the bookstore and then gingerly placing it back on the shelf many times over until finally reading the first few pages to see if it will bear the weight of my scrutiny.
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This is certainly the case with “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. Each time I visit my parents, my dad and I take leisurely trip to the bookstore to browse for hours the many titles and genres at our local bookstore. Usually we come away with one or two books a piece and some quality father-daughter time that leaves us feeling a little more connected in our love of good books. The first time I saw this book was probably a year ago on one of these father-daughter trips. I remember picking it up and thinking how interesting the plot sounded. The back cover only tells you that the book is an “untraditional love story” about a librarian that involuntarily travels through time and his affair with a woman who lives in chronological order. It was fourteen dollars and I was afraid it wouldn’t pan out, so I laid it back down with the other books on a table display and continued on my way. However, from the moment that “The Time Traveler’s Wife” found me, I felt repeatedly drawn to this book. Sometimes I would pick it up and read the back cover once again. Sometimes I would pick up a book lying near it and coyly peer at it out of the corner of my eye. And sometimes I would just glance at it and walk away. I just wasn’t ready to commit.
I told you I’m weird.
It is no surprise that a book about time travel holds a lot of appeal to the general public. Like many people, I have regrets and those moments of reflection regarding one regret or another are usually accompanied by the fantasy born from reading too many sci-fi/fantasy books as a child, which is a longing to have the ability to travel through time. If only I could have told myself not to do this or that. If only…the list goes on. My first natural reaction is that the ability to time travel must be such a blessing. You just pop into your past, give yourself some much needed advice, and pop back home to your present. Life is easier and happier, right?
Not so for the main character of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. Librarian Henry DeTamble has a genetic abnormality that causes him to randomly disappear from his present and reappear at some other place in either his past or future. Like any disease, the ability to time travel only affects his body and consequently his clothes remain in the present and he finds himself naked and confused in a field or on the street or in a house in his past or his future. To add insult to injury, Henry finds that he can’t change anything that has happened in his past or that will happen in his future. He can only struggle to find clothing, shelter, and food during the hours, days, or weeks that he is trapped out of his own time.
Clare Abshire first meets her future husband on one of his jaunts to the past. Henry is thirty-six years old and Clare is only six. They form a fast friendship as throughout Clare’s sequential life Henry continually pops in from the future and the past, until they finally meet in the present and begin the arduous task of trying to build a normal life. Of course, normality is not really an option when your husband involuntarily disappears at and reappears again days or even weeks later.
The story unravels like a series of diary entries by both Clare and Henry. Each passage recounts, from either or both their points of view, their struggle to make their relationship work in spite of Henry’s disability. The situation is unbelievable at first, but the author creates sympathetic and believable characters through the poignant and often hilarious accounts of the progression of their interwoven lives. We learn about Henry through his description of the abilities he has developed, like picking locks and fighting for self-defense, to survive his frequent time travels and how he endures the pain of reliving his past without the ability to change it. Clare’s character is developed as she grows up with the intermittent visits from her time-traveling friend, who she eventually discovers is her future husband, and through her experiences as the wife of such an unusual man.
This story continually bounces through time from past to future to present and back again, but I never felt lost, which will never cease to amaze me. Although told in a non-sequential array of passages, the story manages to unfold in a completely logical fashion. I fell in love with the characters, cheering their successes and crying at their pain, and the story is one that will stay with me always. This book is a ride I haven’t encountered in quite some time and I thoroughly enjoyed every disjointed minute of it! Buy it or check it out or borrow it from a friend, but for heaven’s sake, go out and read this book!
"Time does not change us. It just unfolds us."