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.