The Time-Traveler's Wife (2003)

by Audrey Niffenegger

When a book is praised as "a soaring celebration of the triumph of love over time" (Chicago Tribune), "dizzyingly romantic" (author Scott Turow), and "a powerfully original love story" (People magazine), it seems a good bet for those seeking a heart-tugging read.

The Time-Traveler's Wife is indeed a love story with a difference. One of the lovers, Henry DeTamble, involuntarily travels back and forth in time (but only in his own life span). The other half of the pair, Clare Abshire, stays in real time. The premise presents intriguing angles on time travel — for instance, before they've met "in the present," an older Henry has been visiting a younger Clare as she grows up.

Unfortunately, however, the too-long book is largely a series of repetitive episodes and events without much character development. Henry and Clare live in a cocoon; strangely, the outside world has little interest in Henry's unusual ability, and Henry and Clare show interest in little outside themselves except rock music, trendy food, and pop culture. There are big gaps in details about which the reader is understandably curious, such as what the geneticist he consulted was doing in the eight years before deciding he couldn't help Henry; what Clare did with the nearly half-century she lived after Henry; and how daughter Alba continued to negotiate her inherited ability to time travel.

Why was there such a great outpouring of affection for this book? One suspects it's because people like a tear-jerker love story. But a reader with a cynical bent might find even the love story dubious. Other than sex (and it's almost creepy to think of 40-year-old Henry arriving — naked at that — for repeated visits in "The Meadow" with a child he knows he'll eventually bed and wed), what underlies their attraction is really not clear.


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