Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)

Chicago art professor Audrey Niffenegger's first novel is nothing less than a pure revelation: a page-turner for those who enjoy turning pages, a science fiction story with new wrinkles to add to one of its hoariest traditions, time travel, and a romance that is convincing and tender and overwhelming. Actually, I don't mean to sound like I'm knocking time travel—it's probably my favorite of all the SF subgenres, with its fascinating paradoxes, its visionary potential, and likely its real impossibility, which ultimately may slot it more towards fantasy. But even more key to Niffenegger's success here, I think, is its canny relocation of all the necessary intrigues from out of the cerebrum, where it's often too easy for SF to find its natural environs, and into the cardiac. Because this is a thriller as well as a romance as well as SF, and it's practically impossible, over the course of it, to stop reading or to not to fall in love with the love affair between librarian Henry DeTamble and his wife and lifelong lover Claire Abshire (in many ways, "lifelong" actually understates it), which is one for the ages, and I mean those ages much closer to literally than figuratively. Henry is possessed of some mysterious condition, attributed a bit ham-handedly to a genetic disorder, that yanks him willy-nilly and tosses him across time. He has virtually no warning of when it will happen, no control over where or specifically when he will land, and he doesn't get to take anything with him, even his clothes. Like an extreme version of what Guy Pearce lives out in the movie Memento, Henry repeatedly finds himself disoriented, naked, and potentially anywhere (and, of course, anywhen), forced simply to cope with circumstances. And he's gotten pretty good at it, picking up the basics of street-level survival skills such as self-defense, various identity hustles, shoplifting, breaking and entering, pick pocketing. In the clever plot schemes here, Henry and Claire have always known one another and, perhaps, never known one another. When Henry first meets her, they have already made love in her past; that is still in his future. They have known each other when she is a child and he is an adult, when she is an old woman and he is a middle-aged man, as a married couple trying very hard to conceive a child, and as parents. The epic scope of it is breathtaking. It's a relationship doomed by his condition but one that is also eternal because of it, and therein lies the perfect aching beauty of it.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment