I simply cannot count the times that I closed the book, set it down and said, "Dangit, Niffenegger."
There's a bit of male culture that not a lot of women understand. I suppose there are a lot of things in that realm that are difficult to understand, but specifically for today I'm talking about calling someone by their last name. I've had women tell me that by not referring to someone by their given first name you aren't seeing them as an individual, you aren't recognizing them for their essence, who they are independent of their family name. Naturally I call "poppycock" on that. Sure, that may be how someone takes it, but that is not at all how it is meant.
So, please allow me to peel back the curtain a little on Man culture here. Not too far, naturally. No one would want that. Honestly I hadn't thought about this aspect until this gem of a novel. Every time my sniffling exclamation was, "Dangit, Niffenegger," and never "Dangit, Audrey." For guys, calling someone by their last name is a badge of respect; significant respect. It's fallen into disuse before our generation and, typically for me, that means I'm attracted to it. It says, "I recognize you as a credit to your family name." It's on the same level as "sir" and "Mr." or "Mrs." with me. People get annoyed at me for using them because they come off as formalizing, but really it shows that I respect you in a way that only repeated reminders to call you by your first name will relieve. And Niffenegger is VERY much up there with this book.
Early on I was a little thrown off by some of her writing. The female lead, Claire, was very well written, but when it came to Henry it fell short. He was doing things few men would ever do and noticing things no guy ever notices, let alone when they are a little boy. No little boy is going to notice that his mother's fingernails match her shoes. Henry does. There are more examples of this throughout the first few chapters and I sympathize. As a writer I find it difficult to write characters of another gender, and I see it all the time where men don't know how to write women and women don't know how to write men. They are great at writing caricatures of men. Seeley Booth of the "Bones" series has always bothered me as a particularly 2d example of a man, but in TV and movies you can get away with this. You've got an hour, maybe more, to transmit a lot of information and stereotypes work well. In books, if you go beyond dialogue and deep into internal reflections and reasonings, you have to nail it. There is no faking it. If you do a crap job you can't just do a razzle dazzle to distract. Ok. You can. But people have to fully buy into it to get away with it...and since mostly women read "Twilight"... *cough* sorry.
One of the many rewarding things about reading "The Time Travelers Wife" is that you can see the author grow over time. Something happens around chapter two or three where she suddenly shifts into being a better writer. She gets Henry and his perspective right. Niffenegger runs with it and there's no stopping her.
"The Time Travelers Wife" is the story of Henry, an individual with a genetic disorder that unsticks him from time. Usually this occurs during times of high stress but it's been know to happen during average every day moments as well. When we first meet Henry he is in his later 30s and Claire, his eventually to be wife, is 8. While this seems sketchy you come to realize in his 30s Henry, in Claire's future, is already married to Claire. It's almost a Twilight Zone episode. In the hands of a lesser author that is where it would remain, just in the weirdness, but Niffenegger is not a lesser author.
What emerges from this bizarre opening tale is something very rare in this world. "The Time Traveler's Wife" is that rare book that is about absolutely everything and in the end reaffirms life, virtue, and makes you look at the world far more positively by the end. The couple doesn't come off as unrelatable in the least. They go through all of the same highs and lows, same difficulties and joys, that every couple does. In fact she somehow uses Henry's chronal displacement disorder in such a way as to increase the relatability. I still don't know quite how she does it. Books don't normally make me smile, cry, grit my teeth, or shout in triumph, but this one truly does.
It's kind of like "The Notebook" but less sappy and more realistic.
Yep. I said it. A genetic disorder that causes uncontrollable TIME TRAVEL is more realistic as a plot device than the entirety of "The Notebook".
"The Time Travelers Wife" is the first novel I've read from this century. I was leery of it at first. I mean, honestly...Top 100 Books to Read Before You Die and this book is just 15 years old? Could it really deserve to be on this list? Other Modern novels (And I'm perpetually throwing shade at you Catch-22) clearly didn't deserve it.
Does it belong on the list? Emphatically, yes.
I don't normally say this, but if you haven't read it I highly suggest it. It belongs on the list, it should be on your shelf. It is officially in my top 10 books of all time solidly...and that's a pretty fluid list. My life is genuinely better for having read it, and...I won't go so far as to say we can't be friends if you haven't read it. It is, however, one of those books I'm dying to talk with someone over coffee about. Coffee and pie. Coffee and pie or cake. Coffee and pie and cake. There we go. I knew I'd get there eventually.
The next book on the list is "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. That's right, we are headed back to the Victorians and I know nothing about it. Absolutely nothing. The one thing I do know for certain is that it is the book right before "War and Peace". Yeah. "Middlemarch" is feeling like a slight stay of execution before I need to use my sliding glass doors as a massive flow chart just to keep the story straight. Please be good...please be good...
Apparently getting the proper translation is supposedly key to "enjoying" "War and Peace". I got the 3.99 classics on Amazon so...we'll see.
Provehito in Altum,