Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
ISBN: 0547119798
Houghton Mifflin, 2010
560 p.

Plot Summary: Clare and Henry De Tamble are star-crossed lovers of sorts. Henry has "chrono displacement disorder," meaning he travels back and forward in time at seemingly random intervals. Clare lives her life chronologically, so she sees Henry from girlhood to womanhood. Henry treats Clare age-appropriately, acting as a loving father-type friend during girlhood and a lover during womanhood. However, all good things must come to an end and Henry must figure out what happens if he travels too far into the future.

Critical Analysis: While The Time Traveler's Wife was a compelling read, Niffenegger fell into many of the literary clich├ęs and traps that time travel books are privy to. She uses downright ham-fisted foreshadowing that lessens the dramatic impact of events in the story. It can be assumed this plays into the theme of fate and inevitable occurrences, but that doesn’t make up for the predictability of most events in the book.

Niffenegger also makes what I feel is a fatal mistake – trying to explain why Henry time travels. He has a genetic disorder called “chrono displacement.” This has very little impact on the story and is hardly followed up on, so why not just leave the mystery to the imagination of the readers? This could have left a (more interesting) open ending, perhaps allowing readers to believe that Henry was a figment of Clare’s imagination, or even a ghost.

Niffenegger feebly tries to portray Henry and Clare as a forward-thinking, gender role-reversing couple. Well, other than a few thin veils, this is all straight out of 1950s sitcoms. Clare patiently waits for Henry to come back from his time traveling adventures, something fictional women have had to do since the days of the Odyssey. Clare is also a stay at home mom. It just felt like Niffenegger had the idea to write a progressive couple but fell back into genre stereotypes and started writing sentimental drivel.

Reader's Annotation: Henry and Clare are in love, but what will time and fate have in store for their star crossed romance?

Author Information: Niffenegger is a Chicago native and this was her first published book. She has also written a few graphic novels. The Time Traveler's Wife was adapted into film in 2010.

Source: http://audreyniffenegger.com/about

Genre: romance, science fiction, teen crossover

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Were Clare and Henry meant to be? Does chrono displacement doom them from the start?

What is the importance of Chicago as a backdrop?

Interest Level/Reading Age: 16 to adult

Challenge Issues: frank sexual discussion and scenes

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: This would be a great teen crossover because the prose flows simply and the vignettes it is told in are nice and bite-sized for those who don't have a lot of time to read. It also deals with both characters in their teenage years, so it is interesting to see them progress into adulthood. Overall, a compulsively readable (even if not nuanced) book.

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