BookBin2010: The Time Traveler’s Wife

There’s something about the politically correct labels of modern times that inevitably makes me a little uncomfortable. I think it’s all a tad bit silly. “Vertically challenged” rather than “short.” “Waste disposal technician” rather than “trash collector.” “Paris Hilton” rather than “vapid.”

I’m not sure if this is a global phenomenon or whether it’s just something that we silly Yanks have decided to waste our time and efforts on, but it irritates me. So when I first heard about Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, I must admit that I cringed a little when I learned that the main character, Henry DeTamble was labeled as suffering from “Chrono Displacement Disorder.”

Er, huh? He’s a Time Traveler, dammit.

Regardless, I had heard positive things about both the movie and the book, so I decided to tuck away my irrational irritation and give them both a try. I started with the movie, which stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as Henry and his wife Clare. I like Bana enough as an actor that I’m not only willing to give anything starring him a go (yep, even that Big Angry Green Dude movie) but I even forgive him for being in the recent crapacious Star Trek movie (poke, poke, poke). As for McAdams, I recognize the name and I’m sure that I’ve seen her in other movies, but I do believe that she’s from that gaggle of young starlets that hit the cinematic scene a few years ago and all just blend together in my brain like the empty promises of every modern politician.

Ahem.

All that aside, the movie is quite enjoyable. True, I’m a raging sci-fi geek, so stories about time travel are going to definitely be my cup of replicated tea (Earl Grey, hot). However, this succeeds in being more than just a for-the-geeks time travel tale. It’s ultimately the story of the difficulties and triumphs of life-long love in the face of several rather overwhelming adversities. Of course, this is a highly oversimplified explanation of this story, but for the benefit of brevity (which shows up so infrequently here at the lair), we’ll leave it at that. Bottom line is that this is a clever enough cinematic adaptation that I decided I definitely wanted to give the book a try.

What an entrancing first novel! Niffenegger takes on a rather lofty concept and ultimately delivers a unique and engaging novel. At its core, this is definitely a love story wrapped in the trappings of a science fiction trope, but told in a way that is different and moving enough that it compels you to fall deeper and deeper in love with the story the further along you travel. I’d hate to say too much here about the story itself other than that it examines the aspects of time travel that mostly go unexamined, such as what happens to those who are left behind while you’re off gallivanting through the space-time continuum? How can a relationship survive on the ever-shifting sands of such an existence? How meta can one’s life truly become? How long can you think about these things before you go cross-eyed?

Oops, too late.

Admittedly, The Time Traveler’s Wife does become a bit circuitous at times, and (as I am always belaboring here) everyone needs an editor. I think this story would greatly benefit from losing at least 50 pages of bulk to get it down to a more suitable literary weight. As lovely as Niffenegger’s prose is to read, there came a point when I began to wonder if she was perhaps on a Dickensian “paid by the page” pay scale. Also, there was always a lingering “no” feeling regarding the way that Henry introduces himself to his future wife that I couldn’t shake regardless of how benign Niffenegger obviously tried to make it.

Final Verdict: I don’t anticipate revisiting this book any time soon, so it shall return to the library (possibly even stored in a section that Henry DeTamble might one day find himself wandering aimlessly…and naked). However, it was a worthwhile and worthy tale, and one that I’m very glad I took the time to experience both in its printed and cinematic forms.