“When I was young I didn’t understand, but now, I know, how absence can be present, like a damaged nerve, like a dark bird.” ― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
My childhood best friend is a librarian, books are her living, and even when she isn’t working I know she is spending most of her free time devouring all the books she possibly can.
Her boyfriend is a writer.
Not a writer like I am who writes every day, constantly, but never gets anything published — he’s a real writer, who freelances during the day and writes a series of superhero novels by night.
Between the two of them, you’d think I’d be smart enough to trust their book recommendations, but you would be wrong.
“Read The Time Traveler’s Wife,” Steph told me, and I would wave her off.
“I don’t like romance,” I said.
“Well it’s not just romance.”
“I have a hard time with time travel,” I said.
“It’s way more than time travel.”
These conversations went on and on, and I wouldn’t read the book.
This was back when The Time Traveler’s Wife was first released and was on the bestseller list for ages.
Obviously, it was popular. It was being made into a movie, which automatically made it even more popular, and it stayed on the bestseller list even longer, taunting me with its murky cover.
But I don’t read commercial fiction, I told myself, feeling pompous and superior.
Obviously, I thought, if it was this popular and got made into a movie this quickly, it must be your run of the mill romance a la Nicholas Sparks, which I’d tried and rejected as fluff ages ago.
There are only so many books you can read in a lifetime, I thought to myself. I couldn’t waste time with fluffy time travel romance stuff.
“I need a book,” I kept asking Steph.
“Have you read The Time Traveler’s Wife yet?”
Then it became a battle of wills. I would continue to ask her for book recommendations, and I would continue to ignore this one.
I would stay strong, I wouldn’t give in.
Or so I thought.
My favorite day of the year is when there is a huge book sale in my old elementary school to benefit the little public library.
The entire gymnasium is filled with tables and piled with boxes of books, thousands upon thousands of them for as far as your eyes can see — across the gym.
If you wait until the last five hours of the sale on Saturday, once most things are picked through and the boxes are being condensed on to fewer and fewer tables, they have the ‘bag sale’ where you are given a paper shopping bag at the door and can fill it to the top with as many books as you want (or can) for five dollars.
I walked around the tables, tossing in old battered copies of Stephen King short stories, old true sci-fi novels by the likes of Issac Asimov, and then I saw it — a box that was half filled with a book with a particular cover.
I had reached the place where The Time Traveler’s Wife went to die.
Fine, universe, I thought to myself.
Fine, I said to Steph in my head as I tossed one of the paperbacks into my bag and moved on, thinking I would probably never read it anyway.
But I was wrong, as I often am.
“How does it feel? I feels exactly like one of those dreams in which you suddenly realize that you have to take a test you haven’t studied for and you aren’t wearing any clothes. And you’ve left your wallet at home. When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.” ― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
I imagine I fell into the world of Henry and Clare the way most readers do — slowly, and then suddenly, once the few pages go beyond exploring the beginnings (middle?) of a new relationship, and then then explode into a series of vignettes that take you rushing down the river of time.
No, it is not a love story, but it’s a story about love.
And no, it’s not a time travel story, but the time travel is a huge factor in it, as much in the way I think that zombies become just a background theme in The Walking Dead.
It’s not science fiction, it’s not romance, and it isn’t by any means your average commercial fiction.
For the uninitiated, picture this:
You are Clare Abshire, living your life in a linear fashion, while your love life plays out in fits and starts with a man who you love throughout all his ages, even when you’re seven and he’s forty.
You love Henry; you love each other through time.
You love each other despite time.
You love each other when forever might actually mean forever.
But he keeps leaving you, and you keep staying.
It’s a story about loss and absence as much as it is about love and coming together within it.
It’s a story that I honestly couldn’t recommend any higher, to anyone.
I wish I could tell you why this was a superior romance, but I haven’t read much romance in my life.
I can definitely tell you that it’s a great story about time travel — not just the mechanics of it, or the mechanics as this author has devised, but the way that it is worked into the story and drives it forward, back, and forward again, rushing over you like waves battering a shore all the way to its explosive denouement.
So, even though I didn’t trust my best friend for years, you should trust me. Give The Time Traveler’s Wife a try when you can’t think of anything else to read, or if you want to prove to yourself that you can read and enjoy anything.
“I love you always. Time is nothing."― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife