Anyone who has taken a creative writing class has been urged to “create a space” when writing about fantasy elements-to write a story that makes the preposterous seem possible. This is something that Audrey Niffenegger accomplishes in The Time Traveler’s Wife. While the novel’s title suggests cheesy science fiction, this isn’t cyber-nerd rubbish we’re dealing with here; Niffenegger takes an abstract concept and turns it into a fleshed-out love story with realistic characters, down to the most minute details.
While Niffenegger writes The Time Traveler’s Wife as an alternating narration between Henry DeTamble and his wife Clare, as the title suggests, the story is essentially Clare’s. Henry, a librarian in Chicago’s Newberry Library, suffers from chrono-displacement syndrome, which causes him to time travel during moments of heightened stress or emotion. The novel traces Henry and Clare’s love affair, beginning from their first meeting in the present.
The flow of the novel can be a bit confusing at times with changing dates due to time travel and alternating narrators, but Niffenegger conveniently marks the beginning of each chapter with the year it takes place. The plot progresses steadily despite the flip-flopping narrators as the chapters begin to explain events in Henry and Clare’s past and future as the reader pieces together the lives they build in the present. For example, at one point, Henry lovingly thinks about a scar on Clare’s body in one chapter, the origins of which he comes to learn during a time traveling episode in a later chapter.
Niffenegger turns potentially hokey moments are into literary beauty during her most exceptional passages describing Clare’s artistic paper-making endeavors and Henry’s time travel. As Henry describes returning to his present, Niffenegger writes, “For an instant I see the metal grid that separates the front of the car from the back, the cracked vinyl seats, my hands in the cuffs, my gooseflesh legs… Everything shimmers [iridescent butterfly wing colors]… before my eyes, the police car vanishes.”
Although the reader knows the ending of the novel as it draws near due to Henry’s time travel, Niffenegger builds tension and delves into emotions that cut to the core of the human existence by using words that evoke feelings of lust, love, fear, desperation, frustration, impatience, and more. The result is a moving story sure to touch even the most stoic of readers.
Hannah Bae can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.