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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife

When Henry and Clare meet for the first time in the present, he is 28; she is 20; he is seeing her for the first time; she has known him for years. She has been visiting with his older time traveling self in the meadow behind her house since the age of 6. To him, she is a complete stranger. So, how do you handle a relationship where one partner has a habit of disappearing on the spot, leaving behind only a pile of clothing?

Time is the uninvited guest in this love story, the barrier that keeps the lovers apart, but also assures that they will eventually find each other. This is not the usual time travel novel, no science fiction future or prehistoric worlds, no great evil to be defeated, just "normal" persons trying to live a normal life and have a normal marriage when one of them just won't stay put no matter how hard he tries.

Swirling around them are friends and family, some of whom must be brought into their secret world to help Henry when he time travels, since he arrives at his unselected destinations there and back in nothing but his birthday suit. Each trip is perilous and a test of his survival skills, which include pick pocketing, lock picking, fighting, and staying in shape so that he can run away from danger very fast. He never knows when he will leave, when or where he will end up, how long he will be there, or how long he will be gone. Since stress seems to be a key trigger, he has a hard time staying put for important events like meeting the parents, weddings and child births.

The author, Audrey Niffenegger, does an admirable job of keeping the story flowing forward, in spite of the jumping to and fro in time. The early part of the book focuses on Clare's encounters with Henry in the meadow and her frustration that grows as she grows into her teenage years that Henry will tell her nothing of their future. Next the author takes us through Henry's childhood, how he learns to survive time travel as a young boy (sometimes from his older self) and the experiences that shape him into a tough, cynical young man who struggles and looks for ways to avoid time traveling in drugs and alcohol. By the time he meets Clare in his present, which is the one timeline that you can count on, he is ready for redemption and at this point she knows him even better than he does himself, enough to believe in the man he will become, because she has spent so much time with his future self.

The writing is beautiful in this novel, the story compelling, the love between Clare and Henry rich and true. The possibility of a time-traveling husband seems real enough to be considered a problem that a good wife just might have to cope with.

There is a movie in the works. I'm not a fan of movies made from novels. This is a good story. Hopefully, they won't ruin it.  However they do it, it won't be as complete or as in depth as what the author has written in this novel, so watch the movie, but read the book first!

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