Desert Isle Keeper
The Time Traveler's Wife
On an autumn day in 1977, six year old Clare Abshire goes outside to the meadow behind her house to practice her penmanship. There she finds a very naked 36-year-old Henry DeTamble. Clare knows she shouldn’t talk to strangers, but this stranger knows her name and he seems to know her. He tells a fantastical tale about being a time traveler from the future. Clare is skeptical, that is until Henry vanishes before her eyes.
So begins the love story for Henry and Clare. Well for Clare anyhow. In chronological order, it doesn’t begin for a Henry until 1991 – when an adult Clare goes to the Newberry Library in Chicago to do some research for an assignment and meets him for the first time. For you see, Henry the mild-mannered librarian suffers from a rare genetic disorder kind of like epilepsy. Instead of having seizures he’s sucked out of the present and thrust into the past or the future. Without warning, Henry just vanishes anytime or anywhere, arriving in another time naked and forced to rely on baser instincts for survival.
Henry knows it is lot to ask a woman to put up with. A husband who’ll be cooking dinner and vanish and return okay, or sometimes beaten to a bloody pulp, or maybe not return at all, depending on where in time he’s been. Yet, Clare has waited all her life for Henry and knows his secrets, his quirks, and his suffering. She learns to live in the here and now; and cherish each moment they have together.
The reader sees events as they unfold for Clare and Henry; the story is told from both Henry and Clare’s point of view. Clare, a paper artist, is strong and devoted. She knows almost from the beginning that Henry is the only man she’ll ever love. She ignores people like her Grandma Meagram who calls him a demon, or her friend Gomez, who says that marrying Henry would be the biggest mistake of her life. She knows Henry and she knows her heart. She fights with him and she fights for him. Clare sticks through the good times, like their unorthodox wedding, and the bad, like infertility issues caused by his condition. Like Penelope in The Odyssey, she’s always waiting, worrying, and hoping her husband will return to her.
Considering how much Clare has to put up with, Henry must be a very special person, and not just because he bops through time at the drop of a hat. He’s sweet, charming, and completely in love with Clare. Because of his condition he is sometimes forced to lie, cheat, steal, or become violent, but the reader realizes how much this costs him. Henry prefers the simple things in life like a good cup of coffee, a good book, and music. He’d prefer to be with his family. Instead he’s stuck in a time loop reliving not only the good moments, but the worst moments of his life over and over again from different angles. Worst of all Henry comes to accept that even with knowledge of the future, one cannot escape their fate.
These people are not perfect. They get angry, they argue, and they hurt each other from time to time, but more importantly they love each other. It’s the little things they do that bring them to life; like house hunting in their own eccentric manner because Henry’s looking for what he’s seen during one of his out of time episodes, while Clare makes sure they don’t end up someplace with termites based on that little sojourn into the future. You long for them to be happy, but come to understand happiness is fleeting and you have to enjoy the small moments in life.
While Niffenegger often uses a light touch with the story and focuses on some of the amusing aspects of the tale, over all it is a dark and bittersweet love story. Even though it put me through the emotional ringer and caused me to go through half a box of Kleenex by the end, I wouldn’t have missed this story for anything.