The Time Traveler’s Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger

Henry first meets Clare when he is 28 years old, and he is surprised to encounter someone who knows so much about him even though he has never seen her before. Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 years old, and she is surprised to discover a complete stranger standing buck-naked in the meadow behind her house. Henry is what will eventually come to be known as a Chrono-Displaced Person, meaning he occasionally has difficulty remaining in his present space-time location. While this grants him unique adventures by reliving experiences and glimpsing the future, it also places him in incredible danger. Henry time travels unexpectedly, often at inopportune moments, and ends up in unknown times and locations evading harm and fighting for survival. Meanwhile, Clare waits. Having grown up learning to wait for Henry, Clare continues to wait for Henry. After all, her past, present, and future are all tangled up with Henry’s own unusual past, present and future. While her life marches ever forward in a progression of moment after moment, Henry appears and disappears and reappears without notice, marking her life with both his presence and his absence. It can only happen that way because it has already happened that way.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger is a masterful work of simple themes presented through complex storylines. At its core, this is a story about the nature of love. The timeless, limitless abundance of love that provides the guiding undercurrent throughout disagreements, celebrations, separation, and the present moment. Niffenegger demonstrates this by constantly shifting the timeline throughout the book. Each scene is presented with the current date and year, as well as the current age of whatever characters are in the scene, which is necessary information as the reader uncovers the various ways that Henry and Clare’s past, present and future (not necessarily in that order) are intertwined. Niffenegger develops the intricacies of time travel throughout the book. The reader must adapt to the notion of Chrono-Impairment early in the story along with the characters, and Niffenegger gradually introduces the logistical, ethical and existential dilemmas of time travel over the course of the book. Niffenegger expertly addresses these topics with a gentle logic and consistently comes to the same conclusion that, to quote Johnathan Saffran Foer, everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was. Sometimes the characters (and the reader) learn this lesson in hilarious or embarrassing ways, but more often this lesson resonates with strong emotional impact that cuts to the core of fears, concerns, and the inevitable ways one human life is connected to another.

Perhaps my favorite part about this book is the way the author handles the existential implications of time travel. Contemplating time travel and possible inconsistencies in the fabric of space-time with the backdrop of a highly accessible fictional setting is extremely enjoyable. This book asks not only to be digested, but to be thoroughly savored. Well-worth the time spent reading and reflecting.

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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

By Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently is a holistic private detective that solves mysteries by looking for the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, including his moldy refrigerator. Having been hired to help with a contract related to a potato of some sort, Gently first shows up to work more than 5 hours late to find his client recently decapitated. From there, he heads to a café where he steals both the cup of coffee and the book belonging to the woman sitting at the table next to him. Meanwhile, Kate Schehter, who had been involved in “an act of God” the week before (but which god, and why), does her own investigatory work to find answers for questions she doesn’t yet fully understand. Kate and Gently unexpectedly crash into each other (well, it was really just a fender-bender) down the street from a notorious hospital that seems to be covering up some information. After swapping stories, Kate and Gently part ways with the agreement to share any other information, however improbable, they find. As Gently continues on his unexpected day, he finds himself in a most unlikely situation. In fact, it is a quite impossible situation. But what cannot possibly be done must therefore be done impossibly, and Gently will do whatever it takes to solve the case.

“The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams is the second of two novels in the Dirk Gently series, though the series does not necessarily need to be read sequentially. Adams introduces characters, storylines, plot twists, and non-sequitur explanations enough for the reader to just barely keep up with the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. As with all his other material, Adams describes Gently’s improbable world with wit and humor that is delightfully snarky without crossing into the realm of blatantly cynical. The storyline progresses with this tone in the familiarly unpredictable “one step forward, two steps to the side” that typifies Adams’ other writings. Upon first glance it seems impossible that all these tangential storylines and irrelevant details could possibly be related, but have patience. Adams, of course, finds a way to bring all pieces of the story together, emphasizing not only the fundamental interconnectedness of all things but also his ability to follow a story through every dimension of the universe and bring it all back to the task at hand. Raucous, wild, and unbelievably enthralling, Adams delivers yet another stunning science fiction gem.

This book had me rolling with laughter, almost to an inappropriate degree, when I read it in public. It was even more hilarious when reading in the privacy of my own home. Dare I say it, I love this book even more than “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series (blasphemy, I know). Astoundingly original, unbelievably far-fetched, and entirely satisfying, I can’t think of anything else to ask for in a novel. If you haven’t read it yet, put it at the top of your reading list. Now. You won’t regret it!

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