annotation by Kate Maruyama
The Time Traveler’s Wife is such a lovely read on so many levels and might take a dissertation to unravel its mysteries. There would be lots of charts and diagrams involved. Niffeneger not only gives us two very tangible and likeable romantic heroes, she gives us the entire interweaving of their complicated lives. Or, the complicated interweaving of their entire lives…the result being an amazing portrait of a marriage and its complications. On top of all of this is a supernatural thriller with its own rules, tension and horrors.
There are many lessons to be taken from this beautiful novel, and it could not be more appropriate to what I am working on. The author’s withholding information is artfully done. The first reminder this book had for me is that not everything has to happen at once. She keeps us in the dark in the beginning, and yet explains the rules of the universe: that is so important. They are breathless and time traveling and clearly in love and Henry briefly explains what it physically feels like and that it happens. Then, the other questions that come up, “When do they meet? Why doesn’t he know her? Is he getting younger?” These can wait because we know the basics of the universe and we know exactly the kind of book we are in and it will all come clear in time. And, better than that, these are the questions that create the tension for the story to go forward.
The different voices in the novel, Clare and Henry, work on so many great levels. First, the voices are so strong and clear and we know exactly who they are. They have a sense of humor, which is great. Their awareness of facts are different at every different time we see them and this creates tension, and we also get that great disconnect that often goes on in marriage when feelings and knowledge are presumed, or suppressed or ignored. There are many things Henry keeps from Clare, so it is a delight when she keeps from him their first time making love.
The secondary characters are so well written and we know exactly who they are: Clare’s family, Henry’s Dad, Charisse and Gomez (and their entanglements in our heroes’ lives). Niffenegger brings them all together at the end for a party for Henry and the party takes on some joy for the reader as we realize we know all of these people. Their stories and how they interact create a resonance for the tension of Henry’s final departure. I have been so busy creating my main characters’ insular world, I realize we need to get to know the people about them. I have some of them, but the funeral will be a fun place to bring them out and I have to try to remember to make it a place to learn one or two surprising things about the couple, as well as taking advantage of it as a place to echo what we already know about them.
I marveled at the complete story of their relationship as it is told from beginning to end, and yet it could jump around into the future and the past and the different feelings one has in a marriage were bumped up against each other. Particularly after Henry sleeps with the 18 year old Clare and goes home to the 35 year old Clare who has had so much sorrow. I am mindful to hold my hero and heroine’s entire relationship in my head and while I will not be able to share it all in the time structure of this story, being conscious of how a relationship changes will be foremost in my mind.
The ending of the novel was touching, but I found that the part that moved me most was September 11, 2001. Clare gets up to find Henry sitting in front of the television with their hard-won baby Alba in his lap. She asks if it has happened yet and we realize that Henry has already told her about the twin towers. He answers, no, he is just enjoying the last few hours of the world before it changes forever. I do not often cry in books, but this moment set me off. I was pregnant with my daughter on that day and my son was eighteen months and if I had known then what I know now… It was such a small scene, and yet it yielded the horrors of time travel, of knowing; the problems with not knowing when something large hits, the inability to protect your children from history and the extraordinary ability Henry had to take a moment in his unpredictable traveling to relish innocence. I don’t intend to throw that date willy-nilly into things I am writing, but it is a great reminder that a communal happening can really bring your characters home for your reader. They come alive as part of your shared experience.
This 500 plus page book was read in one weekend. I could say it was out of a ticking deadline for my annotation, but the truth was, I was completely absorbed, in love and couldn’t go very long without finding out what happened next. Bottling that would be amazing, but how does one ensure that every turn for each character will make the reader become completely absorbed, care about the characters and want to know what happens next? It’s not a practical approach to my writing, so for now, I will just hold it in my mind as I forge forward in my draft.