My thoughts on The Time Traveler’s Wife

I don’t know how to talk about this book without talking about the ending. So, if you aren’t interested in spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Last night I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. After I finished, I cried for quite a while. Not because I was especially attached to the characters, but because of what it made me feel about my own marriage, and the hopelessness of the characters’ situation.

The main characters are Clare and Henry. Henry can travel in time, usually triggered by stress. Clare has known Henry since she was six, because his 40-year-old self has traveled back in time to her. They meet again in Chicago when she is 20 and he is 28, but he has never met her before – it’s only the Henry of the future that she knows. Clare is already in love with Henry, and he soon falls in love with her. The book follows their relationship back and forth through time – Clare getting to know Henry as she grows into adulthood, and Henry growing into the person Clare already knows. We also follow them through their struggle to have a child, and they ultimately do have a daughter who inherits Henry’s time-traveling genes.

In the end, Henry loses his feet to frostbite (a tragic loss for a time-traveler who often has to run to save himself) and dies soon after at the age of 43. We get a few pages of Clare wondering how she will go on without him, and then we see that she receives one last visit from him when she is in her 80’s. She knew he was coming, because he left her a letter explaining that he had visited her in the future (for those of you who might wonder, Henry’s rules of time traveling were that he couldn’t change anything – basically he moved along in a predetermined existence. It’s just that his predetermined existence included jumping in and out of time), so she was waiting for him.

So, why was I upset? I was disturbed by the hopelessness of it all. Henry and Clare don’t believe in God, so all she has to look forward to is that last visit from him. She doesn’t have the hope of an afterlife, the hope of seeing Henry again on the other side. All she has is the here and now, and Henry wasn’t even around for very much of that. He died when she was 35, and was always popping in and out of the present even when he was alive.

The most upsetting part for me was the fact that it reminded me that I’m not invincible. Mike could die now, or he could live to be 87 years old. I have no way of knowing. I need to make a concerted effort to live in the present – not dwelling on past hurts or offenses. In the book, Henry was able to make his peace with all his friends, to say that he loved and appreciated them, because he knew when he was going to die. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. We need to reconcile and be reconciled to those around us (if at all possible). We need to take those hard steps towards forgiveness. We need to let people know that we care for and appreciate them. We don’t see the future laid out before us, as Henry and Clare did. We only see a very small part of the great overall plan.

Do I recommend the book? I really agreed with Kirkus Reviews (as taken from “Presented as a literary novel, this is more accurately an exceedingly literate one, distinguished by the nearly constant background thrum of connoisseurship. Henry works as a rare-books librarian and recites Rilke; Clare is an avant-sculptress and papermaker; they appreciate the best of punk rock, opera, and Chicago, live in a beautiful house, and have better sex than you. A Love Story for educated, upper-middle-class tastes; with a movie sale to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, it could have some of that long-ago book’s commercial potential, too.”

The book was interesting and thought-provoking. The characters (especially some of the supporting characters) were interesting, and the time travel was more matter-of-fact than gimmicky. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. However, I couldn’t recommend it without the disclaimer that Clare and Henry have a lot of fairly explicit sex (so much so that I was a little surprised that it was chosen for the Today show’s book club). If you’ve read it (or do so in the future), let me know what you think.

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