Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter One: The Time Traveler's Wife

Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger

So I originally thought that for each review I would begin with a summary of the book's plot. What I didn't know was that The Time Traveler's Wife has hardly any plot to summarize. Here's my best effort:

The book begins with Henry, a 28 year old librarian, meeting Clare, a 20 year old artist. She goes nuts over him because she has known him all her life, and of course he thinks she's nuts because he's never seen her before--at least not yet. You see, Henry is a time traveler and though somewhere in his future he meets Clare, at 28 he hasn't any idea that she exists. However, when Clare asks him on a dinner date he agrees. They go out, talk about things that have occurred in their as of yet one sided relationship, and then promptly go back to Henry's apartment and have sex (Henry's first time with Clare, though not Clare's first time with Henry). Probably by page 10 or 15 they're in an exclusive relationship. From there, Henry meets Clare's friends (Namely Gomez and Charisse) and family. The two end up getting married, and then go through their abnormal married life together. Of course all throughout this life, Henry is time traveling and making Clare worried, aggravated, upset, or all of the above. He travels to many different places and times; a few of these include Clare's childhood, his own childhood, the future, and a time when his mother was still alive. The two conflicts in the story are: 1)that Clare has several miscarriages because the genetic disorder that causes Henry to travel has afflicted the babies as well and 2)Henry is going to die at age 43 and knows about it beforehand.

Conflict resolution 1: Clare manages to keep a baby and they name her Alba. While Clare is pregnant Henry travels to the future and meets Alba, so they know everything will be okay.
Conflict resolution 2: Henry gets hypothermia, has his feet cut off, eventually time travels to Clare's childhood where her father accidentally shoots him (he can't avoid it because he lacks feet), and dies.

That's the best I can do in terms of plot summary, and believe me it wasn't easy. This whole story is pieced together out of order, which makes it a little difficult to explain. That's not a problem to me. In fact, I can see why it would be written this way because of the nature of the story. Time travel shouldn't make complete chronological sense. The problem that I do have is that this book was just a total headache. It wasn't just out of order; it was jumbled and confusing with no sense of a real "present." Also, there was way, WAY too much going on. There were about a million little mini-conflicts and side stories that really had no resolution and by the end of the chapter (or even the book) were just left hanging. It was as if these weird instances were introduced for no purpose other than being annoying and drawing the reader off track. Niffenegger, what were you thinking? Was this a joke on your readers?

Now here is my one real issue with this book. The Time Traveler's Wife is hailed as some great romance novel, but in reality it is more comparable to an erotic novel that is interrupted by bouts of time travel. The whole book centers around Clare and Henry engaging in sexual activity at different ages. Not only is this disappointing, but at some points just downright disturbing. Henry is a dog in the first place and apparently screws around with everyone that he meets before the age of 28. After meeting Clare (and as I mentioned, having sex with her on that first night), he seems satisfied to do it with only her... Over and over and over and over again. I'm not here to push any buttons. I'm not going to talk about my opinions on the appropriateness of sex in literature or whether or not I think sex in certain situations is wrong. However, I will say this: There is something wrong with an author who needs to use sex as a filler when she can't think of anything else to write about. And that's what it was.

"How do i fill this void?... Hmm... Oh I know! Let's get them naked! Again!"

I want to go up to this Niffenegger person, shake her, and scream, "Sex is not love!" This is the simple truth that most people don't want to accept: Sex is not love; sex is either lust or a byproduct of love. Niffenegger couldn't recreate real love. Instead she used sex to create the image of closeness, slapped a name badge on it, and called it love. It's not. With true love one should be able to completely remove every sexual element and still see the love in the relationship. If you were to do this with The Time Traveler's Wife, not only would you not have a relationship, you wouldn't have a novel. You might be able to squeeze a really horrid short story out of it.

That's not all. There are several pointless, disturbing sexual instances in this book. Here are a few examples.

1) As a fifteen year old boy, Henry goes back in time a few days and does things with himself that are only described as "things any 15 year old would do if given the opportunity" or something like that (Excuse the lack of direct quotes; my brother now has the book, leaving me to rely solely on memory). Henry and Henry are then caught naked in bed by their father. After this occurs, the future Henry says something like, "We've got to stop meeting like this," Implying that these... "events" have happened more than once. Why the extreme autoeroticism? Nothing happens because of it; there is no lesson learned or alteration to the plot. It's just disgusting and leaves the reader with the urge to wash their eyes out with soap. No thank you, Niffenegger.

2)I don't care if they are married in the future and have had sex billions of times. I don't care if they eventually have a baby together. Young teenage girls trying to have sex with 40 something year old men is gross (except maybe to the 40 something men in question). Because Henry can't time travel with his clothes on, by the time Clare is 13 or 14 she's seen him naked several times. What's more is that she's trying to get into his pants (or lack thereof) not too long after. Personally, I wouldn't want my hypothetical young daughters reading this book because they might get the idea that A) having sex at the oh-so-mature age of 15 is okay and B) middle aged men are the guys to have it with. Even if he refused sex with her until she was 18, he almost gave in a few times. He lusted after her even in her 16 year old state, and to me that's just creepy and wrong. A 16 year old isn't a woman; she's closer to a little girl. And having sex with her at 18 isn't much better than 16 by the way. Waiting until she's legal doesn't erase the pedophilic thoughts that were had beforehand.

3) At one point in the book (I forget how old she was; maybe 16), Clare goes on a date with this random guy and for no reason other than that she's a tease he forces her to do things (though he doesn't rape her), beats the crap out of her, burns her, and basically tortures her. Clare then gets Henry to help her duct tape the guy to a tree in revenge. Don't get me wrong. Abuse is real, and it does need to be exposed and written about. However, in this book it was totally out of place and it wasn't taken with the seriousness that it should have been. It was as if Niffenegger just needed to add some drama and played around with the idea of sexual and physical abuse. It was pointless, and not cool.

4) After losing several children, Henry gets a vasectomy because he doesn't want Clare to have any more miscarriages. However, Past Henry doesn't get the memo and comes into their future bedroom one night while Clare and Future Henry are sleeping, pulls Clare onto the floor and starts having sex with her. Then she gets pregnant and goes on to have Alba. I loved this in the movie; I thought that it was a really cool idea that she would finally get pregnant AFTER Henry had gotten a vasectomy. The thing about the movie was that Clare went to Henry, picked him up from somewhere, and the moment of conception happened in her car. The fact that in the book, Henry pulled a half sleeping Clare out of bed and had sex with her not two feet away from the sleeping Henry was kind of disturbing to me. First of all Clare was a little freaked out and I bet that had Henry woken up, he would have been pretty upset as well. It was just unnecessary and kind of weird. Yeah, I get that it was still her husband, but... Weird!

5)During Clare's wait to meet Henry in "natural" time, she slips up and has sex with Gomez, her best friend's boyfriend. Throughout the whole book, though Gomez marries and has children with Charisse, he is "in love" with Clare. He apparently hopes something will happen to Henry so that Clare will fall back on him. She does exactly that. Not too long after Henry dies, she goes to the house of Charisse and Gomez, where Gomez answers the door in only a towel. After some very light flirtation and teasing on his part, they end up having sex (described in excruciating detail) on the kitchen table. In Clare's mind, she calls him Henry and thinks of everything he does to her as something that Henry is doing to her. Clare thinks of this as some weird connection to her dead husband. She seems to think she's got him back, and sex is the way to do it. The things that she was thinking during the tryst were mostly just sick and unhealthy. If this isn't proof that the relationship between Henry and Clare was based solely on sex (NOT LOVE), I don't know what is.

Because your eyes are probably getting tired from reading my rantings, I'm going to keep this next part short.

The writing style really bugged me. It was awkward, choppy, and just not at all mature. In some parts it was almost as if a child had written it. Then again, we all have different opinions on which writing styles are good and which are bad. This is why I'll leave you to find out for yourselves.

I hated this book. It made me want to claw my eyes out. Sorry, lovers of The Time Traveler's Wife, but on the Readability Scale, this one has to get a 2. I say 2 instead of 1 because I have to admit, it is a cool idea. Unfortunately, Audrey Niffenegger just went about it all wrong. Too bad, because I think I would have liked it otherwise.

Well Bookheads, that's it for this time around. Hope you enjoyed, and I hope you'll tune in for the next chapter. Oh, and speaking of the next chapter, any suggestions? I'm going to the bookstore in a couple days. :)

Until next time.


  1. Great entry, Kharis! I'll save myself the torture and avoid this one for sure!

    I'd like to read your opinion of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. It is an old book, but one that should be brought to others' attention.

    Keep up the great postings!

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  3. A+

    I would probably rate the story a little higher, but your analysis is spot on as are your concerns about the book. You should be a reviewer for the New York Times...or rather, the Wall Street Journal.