Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffeneggar

"CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays."

"HENRY: All my pleasures are homey ones: armchair splendor, the sedate excitements of domesticity. All I ask for are humble delights…I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time’s whim. And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced…Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair…Clare’s low voice is in my ear often. I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow."

“I’ve been wanting to tell you: I feel so different. I just…feel so connected to you. And I think that it holds me here, in the present. Being physically connected the way that we are, it’s kind of rewiring my brain.”

The podcast Books on theNightstand episode 231 addressed the idea of unlikeable characters prompted by the now infamous quote by Claire Messud (“Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Hamlet? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?”)

One of the hosts brought up that her teenage daughter is reading quite a bit of young adult novels that have strong romantic storylines. The girl exclaimed that she felt ruined by all the perfect men in her books. That is how I feel about The Time Traveler’s Wife. I have read it so many times the different experiences have blurred together and I can’t actually remember when I read it the first time, but it was published my senior year of high school so undoubtedly it was at a very impressionable young age. It is the book I am guilty of handing off to boyfriends and then obsessively reading over their shoulders to see where they are and watch their face for their reactions. I can pick it up at any page and drop it with complete satisfaction and delight because I know the story so well, but I love it so much.

Henry DeTamble: the dashing time traveler librarian
Clare: the gorgeous artist who is the love of Henry's life
Gomez and Charisse: the friends who invent games like Modern Capitalist MindFuck
Mrs. Kim aka Kimy, the sassysweet woman who unofficially runs the “Philanthropic Society for the Support of Wayward DeTambles”
Dr. Kendrick: philosopher geneticist

The whole cast is completely charming. Like your best friends in real life, they are flawed, but they are so great that you must love them because of and in spite of their flaws. The romance of Henry and Clare and the chemistry of everyone else is perfection. It would really just be a book about awesome people doing normal things if it weren't for the time travel. As a sci-fi and science nerd, I have no problem with time travel being a part of the book’s universe (hellooooo Dr. Who), and this novel does it particularly well. AN makes it a scientific plausibility (thus Dr. Kendrick) and works with our disbelief by making sure every time traveling moment is tightly written with no holes that would make it less believable. 

Ultimately, the novel presents a world where you get to live with your time traveling boyfriend by your side, and you get the assurance of making the right choice in life and love. The knowledge that somewhere in the future is a self that Henry can report is doing just fine. The ability to visit and revisit awesome moments in the past. The beautiful opportunity to see, touch, and talk to people who have died. The chance to comfort and advise the younger selves of the people you love. (On the flip side, you also miss the opportunity of taking a chance, taking a crazy leap of faith, you know in advance that you will have very difficult times in life, you will visit and revisit the worst moments in the past, and you will have the nightmare of seeing, touching, and talking to people who have died knowing damn well that they are no longer alive, and you have the nightmare of seeing your younger self do stupid things over and over and over again, in spite of whatever you said. All of these are presented in the book as well, but I am an optimist and a romantic like AN is, so I choose to revel in the comfort of the goodness).

The only thing I dislike about this book is that AN’s other work has not lived up to the expectation that it sets. It’s hard to settle for the okayness of her other novel when I know that this book is out there, and sometimes I worry that it will be hard to settle for the okayness of reality when I know there is a time traveler out there. 

PS: Oh my god in looking for an image for this book I found the new movie-tie-in cover. Bleck!!!! Books on the Nighstand did an episode about that too, and I felt indifferent until I saw the movie tie in cover for The Time Traveler's Wife. Both the actors are gorgeous, but  holy fuck you need to leave that cover alone for the love of Whitman. 

PPS: The irony of making fun of my mom fairly frequently for her preferred choice of reading (paperback time traveling romance novels - you know they're time traveling because there's an hourglass logo on them) while loving this book is not lost on me. Ugh, I hate turning into my mother. Incidentally, she hated this book. 

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