Time Travel books should be fun. This is a drag.

It all started one innocuous day last week. After work, I went to my local library to pick up some books to read. First on the list of books to get was Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (which I finished last night and thought was really very good). The other was up in the air. I figured I’d wander through the stacks at will, and something would catch my eye.

Well, I was really hoping that this library would have The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged) but no such luck.

Instead of Dumas, I picked up The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is nearly as far from epic French literature as you can get. I had heard good things about the book, from professional reviews to recommendations from friends, and while I had seen the movie (and been underwhelmed), the ‘book is amazing!’ I continuously heard led me to think, ‘hmm, I’ll give this a shot.’ Besides, two things in fiction really appeal to me: time travel and immortality, and smack dab on the cover was the first of these.

The little pink ‘Romance’ sticker should have clued me in. Going into the book, I knew it was a love story. I didn’t think I’d end up philosophizing about it.

There are a few things that I like about the book. Namely, the narrative style. It is told alternately from Henry and Clare’s points of view, in the present tense, which is quite effective for the story being told. The book also makes me think, which is always a good thing for me (though not necessarily for anyone in earshot). I also really like the premise, as I adore time travel and, deep down, do enjoy a good love story when I can find one. My hopes were high for the book.

Before I go any further with my critique, I will preface it by saying that I’m about halfway through, and that things may change. I am hoping for some incredible revelation and that everything I am writing about is proven wrong.

Firstly, the joint problem of morality and logistics. Henry really doesn’t suffer any consequences for his actions. Yes, his time traveling means that he ends up running around naked, which leads to him mugging, beating people up and breaking and entering. He never seems to struggle with any of this, morally. He pushes it off, saying, (I paraphrase), “I need to do it to survive and no one will believe me anyways.” He shows no guilt, no remorse for those he has robbed, instead feeling entitled. He does nothing to make amends to those he has stolen from, instead snidely thinking that he is better than everyone else.

He does get arrested (which we are told about), but doesn’t seem to have a criminal record of any sort. Having never been arrested myself (and never want to be, thanks), I don’t know for certain, but I would think that one’s finger prints are on file. And lots of times jobs (and visas) make you get your prints taken, so wouldn’t it be odd if his prints matched up? Particularly as he always seems to end up in Chicago, where he lives and works.

Oh, and as he turns up naked random places, his employers at the library just assume he has some weird fetish for nudity and books, and they push it aside. Um, I think a library counts as a public place, so if anyone were to see Henry darting through the stacks looking for his clothes, wouldn’t that count as indecent exposure?

Next, there is the issue with predeterminism. Clare, the titular wife, meets her husband when she is six years old. And, as their meetings progress, she falls in love with him by the age of 12, pretty much knowing that the two of them will get married. All before she turns twenty. Clare takes this in stride and happily goes along with her life, knowing she’s going to marry some jerk named Henry.

Now, why exactly is Henry a jerk? He encourages Clare’s attachment to him. He doesn’t let her experience life as he has, to date other people, to make mistakes in relationships because its already determined that they’ll end up together. Clare never really has a say in anything, because Henry’s already seen the future. He knows what house they’re going to live in. He knows that they’re going to get married (arguably, in the beginning of his chronology, he doesn’t even know who Clare is, considering he lives life out of order, and decides to sleep with this girl he has met once because she says “OH MY GOODNESS! IT’S YOU! I LOVE YOU! BED ME NOW.” Again, paraphrasing).

Their acceptance of determinism really frustrates me. Henry makes no attempt to change anything, just saying, “It’s a bad idea. I prefer Chaos, but hey, I don’t think that that exists.” There’s no testing, both Henry and Clare are too cautious to make anything of it. There’s some talk about that messing with the universe, but this isn’t explored.

Finally, the root of the problem is with Clare. Her life revolves entirely around Henry. She has her career as a sculptor, but it is Henry who consumes every waking moment of her life. Her thoughts always return to him, and she cannot exist without him. Sculpture seems to be something just tacked on to her, to give her some depth, a ‘oh, she can exist without him, see, she has her ART.’ Which, incidentally, we don’t see her create until AFTER she and Henry are married. We hear about it, but never see it. Kind of like how Clare apparently went to college, but never seems to go to class (too busy mucking about with Henry) or graduate (she gets married and that’s that).

She buys so heavily into the “I’m going to spend the rest of my life with Henry” from such a young age, you can’t help but wonder if the girl’s been brainwashed by the dashing older man. The ‘we will end up together’ is so ingrained in her head, I can’t help but wonder if Henry lived some alternative life, didn’t like it, and is trying his damnedest to change it. Now, this reading may make the rest of the book more interesting, as 300 pages in is too much of an investment to shove aside. Somehow, I don’t think my theory is what the author had in mind.

3 thoughts on “Time Travel books should be fun. This is a drag.

  1. I was iffy about Time Traveler’s Wife. I really hated her next book, Her Fearful Symmetry.

    Did you know that Heller wrote a sequel to Catch-22? I think it’s called Something Happened, but check me on that.

    Like

  2. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so frustrated by a book.

    I did, actually! My (other) library has it, so I’m planning a trip there this week. Closing Time, its called.

    Like

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