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So, I lied. At least to myself. When I started on this book review journey, I had intended to review books that I loved, books I wanted to savor and share with everyone else. And I meant that at the time. I mean, books that are that good are meant to be shared, and that’s the point of these reviews, right?
But there’s one book that I can’t stop thinking about. And it’s been almost a year since I read it. I suppose I’m hung up on the fact that I should have liked it. It was so close to being good but just wasn’t, and that bugs me.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger had all of the makings for a great read: an interesting plot, a timeless (literally) love story, the potential for compelling characters and well-placed red herrings along the way. But it fell short. Instead of being whisked away into a book where anything was possible, the reader instead is bogged down in details and stuck in a truly complicated story with tedious dates and ages of people to try to remember.
The story starts confusing. And maybe it’s supposed to. We are talking about time travel, of course, and that’s always a subject that’s tough to weave into any tale, regardless of what medium is being used to tell it. But this was so confusing that it took away from the characters, and for me – a truly character-driven reader – that meant the story was doomed from the beginning.
I’m okay with some mystery, which is I think what the author is trying to establish, to twist her readers into the folds of the plot, only to upend us with big revelations and “aha!” moments. Except there weren’t any. Instead, it only got more confusing.
One thing I can say, the book is aptly titled: The time traveler’s wife is the only constant. She is the stabilizing factor in the story, the reader’s anchor. Clare Abshire is married to librarian Henry DeTamble who can’t control his tendency to time travel. And the only way to keep track of where you are in time is by where Clare is in the story.
Henry was born with the ability to travel through time, and with this ability he has been able to see and experience more than any of us could imagine, including meeting with younger and older versions of himself throughout periods of his life. Unfortunately for Henry, he can’t control it, creating a nuisance out of something that could have been one heck of a beneficial gift. He is able to feel the episodes coming on and is usually able to escape somewhere private for his departure, but his landing can never be planned. He arrives at his destination nude and penniless and never knows when he’ll make it back to his present time.
All of these factors lend to a pretty intriguing love story with what should be curious questions for the reader: How does Clare cope? How does someone, who lives an otherwise normal, linear life love – not to mention keep track of – a time-traveling husband? What is the potential science involved in this theory?
The only problem is with the last question in this sequence: Who cares?
Even despite her more-than-adequate writing skills, Niffenegger doesn’t make me care about the characters or the plot or the outcome. As Henry DeTamble can attest, special gifts are usually both a blessing and a curse, much like time travel or good writing skills coupled with a huge imagination. Niffenegger’s blessing is that imagination, which is also her curse because of the befuddling details required to explain her ideas.
Based on the cumbersome and clunky read that was The Time Traveler’s Wife, I’d think twice before I picked up another of Niffenegger’s books.
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