For a while now I've been obsessed with sci-fi that's not sci-fi. It probably started in earnest with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but there's also bits of what Chuck Palahniuk does, and even some of the grittier pulp noir writers that teeters cleverly on the edge. So, when someone brought up the concept of The Time Traveller's Wife to me, I was intrigued.
Course, I can't afford rent, so buying a trade paperback by some author I'd never heard of was out of the question. There's a reason I read nothing but old pulp books... I can find them used for around $2 a pop. Anyways, I stumbled upon the book at a used shop out in Northridge the other day, and just finished reading it.
Here's the dust jacket text to save me some time talking about it.
Often lighthearted, thoroughly original, and ultimately profoundly moving, Audrey Niffenegger's first novel tells the story of two people destined to be together: Clare, a perfectly normal woman, and Henry, a time-traveler.
According to the unique rules that Niffenegger creates, Henry travels unexpectedly and mostly to his own past, often when he is "all stressed out and [has] lost his grip on now." As Henry explains when he first meets Clare: "…the person you know doesn't exist yet. Stick with me, and sooner or later he's bound to appear. That's the best I can do." And while it's true that Henry travels to different moments in time, he also travels from them as well. He frequently gets lost in time and doesn't know "when" he is.
But the real story of the book is the lifelong love Clare and Henry share as they try to make the most of the times they have together -- the times when Henry is not traveling.
Subtle but powerful, The Time Traveler's Wife is a book whose importance becomes more evident with each turn of the page, provoking readers to ask themselves if they've made the most of the moments of their lives --moments so fleeting, they could be time travelers themselves. (Fall 2003 Selection)
That's actually not from the publisher, but from Barnes & Noble's site. The execution is a bit less... gaudy as the overview makes it sound.
Here's the thing. I love Chuck Palahniuk. He's a genius. His word choices are flawless, his conceptual and character work is brilliant, but, in terms of it being an involving, emotional read, that's just not there. His books are about shitheads and ego-maniacs (although Diary is a notable, and excellent exception to that) and although I find myself almost always blown away, there's rarely a true emotional connection to the characters.
So, why am I talking about Chuck? Audrey Niffenegger has crafted something remarkably similar to a Palahniuk novel, with two notable differences. One: Her word choices aren't quite as strong, and Two: I haven't been so moved by a book in a long time. There's this interesting conundrum that the book explores, and something that's oft forgotten in time travel stuff. The end game is a forgone conclusion. It's the why's and wherefore's that make the thing work. Niffenegger seamlessly layers in plot points in a remarkable non-linear fashion that while some of the tension goes away, it tends to give all of the build up scenes much more weight. You know a character will die, and, in some cases, when, but, it gives this wonderful sense of dread and resentment.
Plus, I got to sob like a schoolgirl while reading it, which despite loosing my already limited "Manly Points" with Dina, makes the book considerably more cathartic and satisfying than just about everything else I've read in a long while.