The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

time traveler's wife

Grade: B+

Doing it at: 4%

Catnip: Real Book; Pillow Weeper; The 90’s; Dual Narrative; Soulmates; Time Travel

Shame Scale: No shame, you could read this book anywhere with no shade, I think it might even be endorsed by Oprah.

Fantasy Cast: Eric Bana; Rachel McAdams 

Book Description:

This is the story of Henry and Clare, who have known each other since Clare was 6 and Henry was 36 and were married when Clare was 20 and Henry 28. This is possible only because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he flashes to other points in time.

Mary was pretty shocked to discover that I had neither read The Time Traveler’s Wife nor seen the movie. She was sure I would love it, and I think she considers it required romance reading, as it may have been one of her gateway books. She presented me with a paper copy (a rarity since we read 97% Kindle now)with the caveat that I might want to stock up on Kleenex. Who doesn’t like to be devastated by a book?

This is the story of Henry and Clare, Henry meets Clare in 1991. Clare meets Henry in 1977. She meets grown up Henry, traveling back in time to visit with his wife, well before she was his wife (because she was six). Confused a little? Its kind of a science fiction book, in the sense that there is time traveling and some shaky science involved. But it is definitely a romance in the sense that Henry and Clare are madly in love and meeting each other all over time.

The entirety of the book is told in dreamy vignettes, filled with small, sharp details. At the start of each passage it gives the reader the date, and the ages of Clare and Henry. Sometimes Henry will have two ages (31 and 37), as he has the ability to literally be in the same space in time twice. Just not at the same age. Falling through time is out of his control, and when he shows up places (naked) he has no idea when or where he is. Clare is six when she stumbles upon naked grown man Henry in the meadow. He knows her name. She isn’t as scared as perhaps she should be. Her rich parents haven’t been having the stranger danger conversations.

Henry visits Clare over and over again as she’s growing up, he gives her a book of dates so she’ll know when to expect him (I still haven’t quite figured out how he knew all the dates since he was traveling all out of sequence, but you know suspension of disbelief and all that), and she starts keeping clothes for him so that they don’t have to hang out with his junk out when he appears. She finds a little-used basement room in her cavernous family home where he can hide out in the winter, and she tries to weasel out what information about grown up Clare that Henry will share. Eventually Henry lets it slip that he and Clare are married in the future, which essentially ensures that Clare dates almost no one else ever. When she does try out dating a Non-Henry guy things don’t go so swell for her anyway, so maybe his showing up and warning her was for the best.

There is two-year gap wherein Henry does not time travel to meet Clare, and when Clare meets 28-year-old Henry at the library where he works he has no idea who she is, because it was an older version of him that knew her. But she knows all about him, and this is a little weird for both of them.  It’s also an interesting trick to pull on the reader, we get two initial meetings and the book switches from Clare’s perspective to Henry’s as often as it switches up the timeline. As a long time Quantum Leap obsessive I thought I had a good idea how time travel worked (you leap from life to life, striving to put right what once was wrong, duh), but Henry can travel both into his past, AND far into a future that he hasn’t experienced yet. Present day Clare is trying to reconcile the very grown up Henry that she fell in love with and the young Henry who doesn’t know anything about her or the history they share.

This book has been out for a dozen years AND there’s a movie, but just in case you’re like two weeks ago me and you don’t know the story scroll real fast from Eric Bana to Eric Bana:

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Mary was not wrong on that whole needing to buy Kleenex prophesy, Clare and present-day-Henry do fall in love and they do get married. Even though Henry is always very inconveniently popping out of current time and off to where Clare knows not, and sometimes this leads to him getting beaten up, shot at, and arrested. Still, they love each other and are mostly very happy, and having tons of sex because physical activity keeps Henry grounded in the present. They try to use sex and running to keep him from leaping out on his wedding day (his body gives him some warning that its going to happen so he can at least make himself scarce when he’s in a crowd), but he disappears before the vows and Clare ends up saying I Do to future Henry instead. Clare seems happy to see her future Henry, he was after all the one she fell in love with.

Eventually Henry finds a doctor who believes him when he says that he can time travel, and that doctor figures out that his ability to travel through time is a gene mutation. Which becomes a problem when Henry and Clare decide to try to have a baby. Their little bodies with their tiny fucked up DNA won’t stay in the womb and Clare keeps losing baby after baby. And my heart, you guys. She has multiple wrenching miscarriages and eventually Henry can’t handle the sorrow and becomes afraid that he’s going to lose Clare in the process of all this trying. So, he has a vasectomy. HOWEVER vasectomy having Henry didn’t take into account younger version Henry showing up and having sex with Clare while current version Henry was sleeping in bed next to them (I’m sorry if that sentence is very confusing, this timeline stuff is hard to nail down). After multiple losses Clare finally gets a baby that sticks, and they are so full of joy about their impending baby girl, and they name her Alba. Alba. Oi. But moving on.

Just before Alba is born Henry travels to the future, to an art museum where a class of grade school kids are on a field trip. Alba is there, being a tiny girl art-genius and Henry can’t resist coming in for a closer look at his not-born child.  Alba sees Henry and comes flying across the gallery and hugs him fiercely. Alba’s teacher is confused about who this man Alba is calling daddy is, because Alba’s father is dead and Jesus Christ, Mary why did you do this to me?

You guys, Henry dies, and it is awful and I can’t even write about it without wanting to cry. I cried until my face hurt.

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End of spoilers!

The Time Traveler’s Wife was a dense, dreamy summer read. The story was easy to fall into and the short chapters made it perfect for reading in between apathetic bouts of “parenting” my feral children. You can recommend this one to your non-romance reading friends, and to anyone else who you’d like to make cry.

Check it out on Amazon:

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