I honestly think the best romance novels don’t look a thing like romance novels. The moment I’m reading a book and I say to myself, “damn, I’m reading a romance novel,” is the moment that book gets permanently shelved. But oftentimes I’ll get through a book, and after finishing it it’ll hit me like a rampaging bulldozer: “hey, I just read a romance novel cover to cover and didn’t even notice!” This happened to me recently with The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
It’s kind of a gimmicky book, in that “time travel” is in the title. And gimmickiness always increases my expectations of a story. After all, Audrey’s not the first person to write about time travel, and she certainly won’t be the last. But her approach to the subject is unique, in that the main character’s journeys through time are involuntary, random (more or less), extremely inconvenient, and the result of a genetic disorder. Henry DeTamble first meets his future wife Clare when she is just starting grade school–and he’s in his forties, time-traveling from the future. He visits her randomly through time travel until they finally meet in the “present” at Chicago’s Newberry Library. The usual lovey-dovey stuff ensues, but here’s the catch: because of his “disorder,” Henry is gone for sometimes days at a time, off involuntarily experiencing some other time period, which leaves Clare alone and worried. Causality holds tenuous ground throughout this book, as Henry experiences events in his middle age that Clare has already experienced during her childhood. That, to me, was the most fascinating aspect of the book, that although the events of Clare’s childhood had already happened when Henry left the present to visit her, nothing in the present changed despite the fact that Clare already knew the way things were “supposed” to go. It’s as if a fatalistic hand held together the past, present, and future throughout the story.
I guess love’s supposed to be something like that? Love transcends time maybe? I dunno. Regardless, this is a great read for fans of time travel, the Windy City, and yes (sigh), romance novels.