I set aside some time this morning to take stock of my life and the various gifts I received over the hiatus. Among the goodies: a milk chocolate cauldron filled with marzipan vegetables commemorating the night attack by Savoyard in 1602 (Thanks, Rachael), a boxful of Tim Tams for the cast and crew (The chocolate mud rocks. Thanks, Sel), a collection of the “Very Worst Opening Lines in Fiction” (Thanks, Pauline), a hand-knit black scarf with a fiery J (Thanks, Kellie), a selection of holiday inspirations (No accompanying card, so thanks to someone in Alberta), a handmade cappuccino-scented hand soap modeled after a dog turd (Thanks to Moe Jacuzzi), and a multimedia player for my iPod and DVD (thanks, SciFi).
Just a little reminder to check out tonight’s People’s Choice Awards broadcast. Stargate Atlantis is up against Dr. Who and Battlestar Galactica in the Favorite SciFi Show category. If we win, I’ll celebrate by seeing how drunk I can get on champagne truffles.
I enjoy reading a variety of books. My reading list is made up of not only diverse genres, but diverse sub-genres as well. Take science fiction, for instance. In any given month, I may read a couple of classics, some post-apocalyptic offerings, a smattering of space opera, and even an occasional scifi romance. Okay, by “occasional”, I mean “just this once”, and, specifically: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.
Now it’s not that I’ve got anything against romance. It’s just a genre that has never really piqued my interest. However, the premise of Niffenegger’s novel intrigued me enough to test the waters. For those who don’t know (Which would mean you didn’t read the book. In the words of Gomer Pyle: “Shame, shame, shame!”), it’s a love story about a couple, Henry and Clare, whose relationship is complicated by Henry’s unfortunate susceptibility to involuntary time travel. One second he’s lying in bed or sorting books in the backroom at work and, the next, he’ll be standing naked in a meadow, or naked in an alley, or naked (well, you get the idea) more often than not popping up into the life of his future wife, Clare. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, focusing on the events of a given jump as told from the point of view of either Henry or Clare. For instance, Clare may tell us about the time she was 12 and had a 42 year old Henry paid her a visit, or a 34 year old Henry may tell us about the time he popped in on a 32 year old Clare. Like I said, a very interesting premise and, although somewhat confusing at times, fairly solid in its time-travel logic. Kudos to Niffenegger for keeping it straight and offering a well thought-out sequence of time-shifting events. However…
As much as I found the premise intriguing, I found the characters far less interesting. Henry is, well, a bit of a poseur jerk while Clare’s sole purpose in life seems to be to moon over Henry. Although it was clear that these two were in love, I was never really certain why. What attracted Henry to Clare? And, more importantly, what attracted Clare to Henry? Of course, one possibility comes to mind. Given that Henry starts popping up in Clare’s formative years, it seems likely that she fell for the mysterious stranger she is destined to marry. Okay, but did anyone else find it a little creepy that Clare first lays eyes on Henry when he pops into her life when she is a four year old tot playing in a secluded meadow? Did I mention that he travels naked?
While the internal rules of time travel the book sets up for itself are admirably adhered to, the characters’ attitude toward time travel is not. At one point in the narrative, teenage Henry travels back to pay his 13 year old self a visit and, in yet another disturbing scene, ends up being caught in a, uh, compromising position by his father. Since his future self knew that his father would catch them, his younger self asks why he didn’t do anything to which his future self replies that the future has already been set and cannot be changed. Alright, but in another sequence, Henry ends up giving Clare some upcoming lottery numbers to help secure her future. At one point, the couple experience the events of 911 and, in the back of my mind, I was thinking “So, you WON’T prevent 911 but you WILL cash in on the lottery?”
Henry’s disappearances and reappearances are, conveniently, rarely noticed by other observers. He’ll either be in bed or working alone when he disappears. Given the seemingly random nature of his affliction, wouldn’t it be likely to happen at least once or twice while he was in public? Probably, but this would open up a can of worms (The inevitable questions and potential involvement of outside forces [ie. The government]) that would have taken the narrative in a completely different direction. Still, it seemed a little too convenient that no one ever witnesses this guy pop in and out of existence.
After Henry discovers that his condition is a result of a genetic disorder (!), I asked myself why the couple would be so selfish as to bring a child into the world knowing he/she could inherit the same condition. Again, it affords the author the opportunity to introduce a couple of very interesting scenes in which Henry is visited by his future daughter – but it still leads me to wonder whether logic was sacrificed in favor of an interesting idea.
Overall, because the characters interested me far less than the actual premise of the novel and its narrative structure, I wished the book had been two-thirds its present length (The lovingly detailed explanations of Clare’s paper designs did little to enamor me to the character). Still, The Time Traveler’s Wife does posit some interesting philosophical questions and its last scene, the final meeting between the two lovers, is truly heartbreaking. I’m sure the upcoming movie will do well.