Normally, I loathe time travel stories. They’re too often cliche and fail to adhere to any kind of internal consistency. However, I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife mainly because it’s so different from other stories on the subject. In fact, the book isn’t about time travel per se. It’s about Henry, a time traveler, and Clare, his titular wife. And their daughter, and friends, and family.
In other words, nobody goes back in time to fight Nazis or alter history. It’s a small-scale story about a man who involuntarily and spontaneously time travels, and the book explores a variety of questions that would come up if that kind of thing were real. The questions are occasionally mundane (Would you cheat the lottery and stock market or would you try to live a normal life?) but most often very thoughtful (If you, as a grown man, repeatedly met your wife as a little girl, how would you treat her? If you knew when and how you were going to die, would you tell your family? If you met your daughter in the future, what would you say to her?). The book stumbles around the cause/effect paradox that plagues every time travel story, but once you suspend that little piece of disbelief it’s a great experience full of really stimulating conundrums and ethical questions on a very personal level.
A few overwrought similes aside, the writing is also quite lyrical, flowing well as the author jumps back and forth in time in a way that’s engaging, not confusing. She lays down multiple threads in the narrative, then dances among them with admirable skill as she plays with the many implications of Henry’s brand of “chrono displacement disorder.” Why is Henry so unhappy every time he travels from the year 2000? What was the horrible accident that Clare is prevented from seeing as a little girl? Why does Gomez dislike Henry so much before they even meet for the first time? Questions like these are dropped all the time, then neatly wrapped up as the narrative skips back and forth. It’s really well done.
The book’s only substantial flaw is that the relationship between the time traveler and his wife is too romantic. Even though the husband does some really awful stuff (drinking, drugs, going behind his wife’s back to get a vasectomy, secretly having medical tests done on their daughter against the wife’s wishes), the couple is just over the top in love. They constantly ache for each other, fawn for each other, and generally adore each other to the point where you want to check the book’s cover to make sure it doesn’t have a busty maiden swooning into the arms of a lantern-jawed sea captain. The romance, along with the main characters’ love for their daughter, is played to good effect and results in some genuinely moving scenes towards the end of the book, but I would have connected more with the characters if they had actually behaved like a real couple and found strife in their life every now and again.
That being said, I highly recommend the book and think it would appeal to a wide variety of people.