Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have participated in the latest round of the Barren Bitches Brigade Book Tour. I opted in because I heard alot of good things about this book and was anxious to read it. Each participant has been asked to select three questions from a list and answer them. Below is my review and my answers. Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list here

Spoiler Alert
If you want to read this book but haven't yet, you may want to avoid reading this post.

So on to my review. In a nutshell: This book bugged me. I was excited to read it since it had the sci-fi time traveling thing going on as well as the fact that it was supposed to be a grand love story. Everyone was tellingl me that they read it over and over, and how they cried every time. I gotta tell ya, I just didn't see it. I thought it was a dark depressing story, with desperation as it's main theme. Henry DeTamble was a reckless human being, not only with his own life, but with the life of his wife and future child. Clare Abshire is a lost soul. She starts out that way before she meets Henry, and when he arrives on the scene she is desperate for the attention she couldn't get elsewhere. . Besides the fact that his visits start to border on the inappropriate, his tales of their wonderful future have Clare enraptured. She focuses on nothing else and misses out on a normal childhood and early adulthood...convinced by Henry that their fate is already sealed. Their "real" life together is snippets of sex surrounded by dark periods of oppresive waiting. It's hard to figure out if Clare is really in love or just unnaturally dependent on Henry. The more time she spends with him, the more depressed she becomes. At the end, she is even more lost than she was when she began.

The chapters about infertility are heart wrenching, and I suppose one could argue that they accurately reflect the horrible pain, suffering and desperation that many women go through. As my answers below will indicate, I feel that Clare's intentions are selfish, so much so that she disregards the health of her babies, and they die as they time travel out of her womb. I have a hard time believing that any woman would be that desperate (and stupid).

I don't expect to be in the majority with my views. I know that many people liked it, and if you got something good out of this book, that's great. It was certainly a well crafted story, just not my cup of tea. If you want some serious romantic time traveling story about a woman who can't conceive, go read Outlander. Now that's my cup of tea with milk and honey! (For another fulfilling albeit cheesy experience, go rent Lake House).

Clare endures a lot trying to create a child. She keeps trying, regardless of the fact that she continuously miscarries, continuously wakes up covered in blood, and knows that her child could have the same "problem" as her husband. What drove her to continue down this road and why do you think Henry participated?

Clare was so desperate to have a piece of Henry with her always, that she stopped at nothing to get it. Because Henry came into her life so early and so often, Clare knew nothing else but him. Her whole world revolved around him; her days were either spent with him, or pining away for him until he returned. So it’s no surprise that Clare says “I wanted someone to love who would stay: stay and be there, always. And I wanted Henry to be in this child, so that when he was gone he wouldn’t be entirely gone, there would be a bit of him with me…insurance, in case of fire, flood, act of God.” Which funny enough, she does end up needing in the end. I suppose Henry participated at the time because at that particular moment he hadn’t really known for sure if they could or could not produce a baby. Although he does say “I know, without knowing, that this is very unlikely”. I believe that Clare couldn’t think rationally, or even objectively…so obsessed was she with having Henry, even if it was just a small tie to him. If mothering were her only objective, she could have adopted. But when Henry suggests it she says “But that would be fake. It would be pretending.” Maybe it was at this point that I really started to hate this book.

The present and future intersect frequently in the book. Often the result of these minglings is that information about the future is hinted at or revealed early but the actual experiences cannot be altered or prevented. If you could have known about the struggles you'd face on your path to parenthood, would you have wanted to know? Would you go back and warn or prepare yourself, even though you'd be powerless to change the outcome? Why or why not?

If I couldn’t change the outcome, then I wouldn’t want to know. I remember sitting in my RE’s office after the first failed cycle, having a real conversation after we finished with all the medical talk. I was saying that if someone could just tell me, “Look, this is never going to work so stop wasting your time”, I would have stopped in a heartbeat and went on to adoption. But as we all know, the siren song of IVF is strong. Each new cycle I thought “THIS is the time it’s going to work!”. But eventually we realized that it never would. So, even if I thought I could prepare myself for that awful journey, I don’t think I would have believed myself. I would have tried to change the outcome anyway. Clare is clearly very happy when she learns that eventually she has a baby, although she doesn’t know how many tries it will take. She has one further miscarriage, and there is no discussion of how she felt through it, so it’s unclear if was easier for her to bear than the others. No miscarriage is of course, but perhaps that glimmer of hope gave her the strength to try again.

Due to his ability to time travel and jumps into the future, Henry knows that he is going to die. Yet in the beginning, he works hard to try to create a baby with his wife. This situation obviously benefits Henry in that he gets to parent Alba for a bit before he dies. This situation also benefits Clare since she wants to be a mother. Yet Alba grows up without her father yet with his extraordinary abilities—abilities that were a difficult adjustment for Henry growing up. Do you think he acted in the best interests of his child when he helped create her knowing that he would not be around to help her understand her ability to time travel? Do you think it is truly possible to take the feelings of a child in mind prior to creation as well as fulfill your own need to parent? If you had been in Henry's shoes, would you have created this child knowing she would be able to time travel and you would not be there to help her understand this anomaly?

Throughout this whole story, I couldn’t help but think that Henry was hiding behind his “fate” theory, and engineering all these events out of pure selfishness. Or if not selfishness, his desperation to stay grounded in the present. To begin with, I don’t think he acted in the best interests of Clare. I think he could have withheld his identify from her when he came to her as a young girl. He didn’t have to supply her with the list of dates that caused her to spend her life waiting for their next encounter and essentially stealing her childhood. It was as if he were cementing his future by binding her to him from the very beginning. Although he gets a vasectomy, a time traveling self gets her pregnant anyway. Knowing what he is, and what could happen, he does it anyway. I think it is a necessity to take the feelings (and health!) of a child in mind prior to creation. Your desire to parent a biological child should never supercede their welfare. Even worse if you know you won’t be around to help them.


wavybrains said...

I'm going to give Outlander a try--thanks for the recomendation.

I LOVED Time Traveler's Wife, but I get what you're saying in your critique. I don't neccessarily think Clare was desperate or stupid in trying to get pregnant even though the babies kept time traveling. She actually reminded me of a blog I read where the woman has endured something like a dozen miscarriages because of a genetic disorder. Would I follow this woman's or Clare's path to parenthood? No way. But, I found both stories oddly compelling bolstered by gorgeous writing. The book takes on a mystical, hazy quality that seemed to transcend the moral ambiguities of Henry's actions, but I do see why they kept pulling you out of the stories. As much as I loved the book, I was unhappy with ending--I just wanted more for Clare. For him. For all of them.

SmileSleep said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jenni said...

Thanks for sharing your take on this book. I actually liked it and found the story very interesting, however, I probably wouldn't read it again. Like you, I didn't find the romance between Clare and Henry very healthy. The promises he gave her of this grand future together seemed false. Their married life was filled with heartache and loss. If he had been more of a "guardian angle" type of visitor during her youth, Clare may have had a happier life.

The comment about adoption being "fake" I let slide because I took that as Clare's view of motherhood, not mine. Sadly, many people who want a baby simply as a way to have part of their husband with them would probably feel the same way (not the healthiest reason to have a child).

Anyway, all that being said, I did enjoy the book, mostly because it's idea of time travel was new and interesting to me. But the story was generally depressing, and after I finished reading it, I turned around and sold it to my local used book store.

The Town Criers said...

I think I was so obsessed with the idea of seeing someone again who is gone that all the other aspects of their relationship flew out the window :-) I definitely see what you're saying.

Someone had an interesting take on the pretending line--that it was more a commentary on having to present themselves once again in a pretend way in order to qualify (I mean, how do you get through the homestudy with that factor in play? Could you imagine having to explain why your husband was on the sofa one moment and gone the next? Or showing up naked? It was simply one more place where they'd have to pretend vs. trying on their own where they had the emotional fallout, but were spared the necessity of explaining their bizarre situation). How did you take the pretending line?

Samantha said...

I loved the book, but I did always feel a bit bothered by how much Clare ended up getting the short end of the stick of things, and often wondered about the time paradox issue. Clare's entire childhood was changed with Henry's visits, whereas Henry got to have his roaring and oblivious 20s. I often wondered why the older Henry didn't tell his younger self about Clare, but I guess the older felt he couldn't tell the younger because the older hadn't know. Seems like a frustrating experience in a lot of ways.

However, I always felt like Henry loved Clare with all of his heart, so perhaps it didn't bother me as much as you.

Andrea said... know I am one of those who has read this book many times and loved it. But, I see you points. The fertility parts were tough for me, even though we haven't technically gone through that. We went straight to adoption. Good critique!

Ann said...

(I hope this doesn't end up double posted, it didn't seem to take my first comment)

It's funny, I loved the book, but I completely agree with your complaints - particularly about Henry not acting in Clare's best interests. The part that really got me was when Clare admitted that she'd carried the guilt of sleeping with whatshisface (don't have the book in front of me), because she considered it cheating - even though it was before Henry met her! I don't think Henry has any idea what effect he has on her life before he meets her and after he dies - I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse. I would like to think that their "real life" was more than just sex and dark times that were portrayed. Rather, maybe Niffenegger didn't feel like expounding on the normalcy of life would fit with the book.

littleangelkisses said...

Okay, totally agree that Henry was hiding behind fate! He knew the outcome so he just went with it. Clare and Henry's relationship is filled with love, but there is a dependancy there too. I think Clare doesn't ever even try to change, explore who she is even because she "knows."

Interesting thinking!

Pamela Jeanne said...

First, thanks very much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Much appreciated. Second, I am so with you on your reaction to the Time Traveler's Wife. I came this close to tossing the book in the bin when I initially bought it a year or more ago. Somehow it got buried in a stack of books and I managed to locate it after it was selected for the BBBB. Even after trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, it was a chore to read.

Bea said...

Wow - a negative review! That does make things more interesting.

Of course, I disagree with you on many points. I've answered the third question in a totally different way - I suspect there's a line somewhere, I'm just not sure where it is, and I don't think they crossed it.

I did enjoy reading your thoughts.