Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Love Conquers All, Including Mental Illness, Spontaneous Time Travel, etc.

Source: Author Website
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (MacAdam/Cage, 2003, 518pp.)

Niffenegger’s literary debut traces the life and times of Henry, an involuntary time-traveler, and Clare, the devoted wife who waits for his return. Henry suffers from Chrono-Impairment, a genetic disorder that causes him to time-travel throughout the course of his own lifetime—and consequently, back to Clare’s childhood as well. It is during Clare’s childhood that their relationship is first cultivated, when she is only 6, and he is in his thirties. But the time traveling proves to be a curse. Henry is unable to take anything with him, no cash, no identification—not even clothes. Nor can he control his destination. He may appear in the middle of a highway, in a stranger’s front yard, in an airport, etc. What sounds like the premise of a Harlequin romance novel (naked time traveler must rely on heroine to provide him with clothing) is instead boasted as an epic love story. Unfortunately, this is a point to be debated. Although there are numerous sex scenes between the two lovers, the reader is not sure what Henry and Clare see in each besides physical attraction. While the author obviously has affection for her couple, she fails to make them appealing on a number of levels. Clare, for example, is much too passive. Never does she bother to question Henry’s behavior, or even once stop to think for herself. Henry, on the other hand, suffers from arrogance. He sneers at the doctors who think that his time traveling episodes are merely the ravings of a schizophrenic. He even admits at one point that there are times when he feels superior to those who lack Chrono-Impairment. And both characters, (no doubt unintentional on the author’s part), rarely show compassion for anyone other than themselves. Henry dumps his emotionally unstable girlfriend with nary an explanation when Clare claims that they are meant to be together. When his ex commits suicide years later, Clare acts like she couldn’t care less. In an unfortunate effort to make her couple the epitome of artistic coolness, the author also has them quoting poetry and exchanging dialog in French and German, failing to enlighten lesser mortals with a translation. Niffenegger’s efforts, clearly meant to impress her audience, instead come across as pretentious. In addition to this, the couple is surrounded by an undeveloped supporting cast, some of which, tragically, are more intriguing, and more blessedly human than either one of the author’s beloved golden couple. An admirable first attempt, certainly, but one that screams amateurism. As the novel’s bestselling status shows, there’s no in between for this one: you’ll either love it or hate it.

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