Saturday, March 1, 2008

Voice of Dissent: An Uncensored Diatribe on The Time Traveler's Wife

By Corinna Carlson

A new voice to Estella's Revenge since its reincarnation as a book 'zine, Corinna Carlson is one of the brave few willing to say, "I didn't like The Time Traveler's Wife!"

So, [insert HUGE *sigh* here] I have finally, and I mean FINALLY, finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I never manage to read as much as I’d like to; I set myself monthly reading quotas and I’ll meet them for a while and then every now and again a book comes along that I don’t hate per se but is a struggle, and I have to push through it. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. I ended up reading two books while reading The Time Traveler's Wife, which is essentially unheard of, and I don’t really know what it means.

There's a little background involved in my reading this novel. In fact, I wasn't going to. My dad picked this as a family book club book, but that meeting never happened. My dad loved the book, my mother hated it. Adam got 118 pages in and I kept getting mad at him because he would not stop laughing, and at the time it was still for book club so that sort of behavior was totally unacceptable.

Long story short -- meeting is cancelled, Adam rejoices, I decide not to read it. Months pass, maybe a year, this book was released in 2003 after all, but everywhere from every direction, THE INTERNET itself, my book buddies, Facebook, e-mails, random conversations, somehow some way the book would find me. Mind you, I did only have to look up at my alphabetically organized bookshelves to find it, but the damn thing was obviously calling me in the way books sometimes do.

Thus I begin the five hundred plus page book. The title is a great example of what this book is primarily about; we have the time traveler and we have his wife. The time traveler travels and the wife doesn’t. Life is hard and crazy and they are pulled this way and that way and there are emotions and no such thing as normalcy and the characters have to believe and endure a lot of pain and yearning and it starts out really good. I’ll give it that. For a first go at writing a novel I do have to say I am extremely impressed by the majority of her writing style. But the thing that first got on my nerves was all of her half formed cultural references. For example, the mention of Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, for no apparent reason except to make the reader feel they are inferior to Niffenegger if they don’t catch all the allusions, and trust me, there were MANY. These references are still relevant to the novel, but all they are is dropped like they are hot. Also there is a technique we are all familiar with called foreshadowing. I don’t know if she actually believed that she could take it to an entirely new level of let’s just tell the reader EXACTLY what is going to happen and see if they keep reading, or if her idea of foreshadowing is literally that literal.

I almost couldn’t finish it because I was so disappointed. This book had unlimited potential and parts made me feel like it was a five out of five stars novel, but all of a sudden the wheels fell off and reading it felt like a chore. It got ridiculous, I couldn’t even feign sadness for the characters, but again, for me, this stems from the underdevelopment of the characters. I would have liked to have seen her dig deeper into the traveler’s sexual past and its affect on his wife.

At the end of the day, I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it; therefore, I give it a three.


Darcie said...

I agree with you! For me the Time Traveler's Wife didn't meet up to all the hype and I was disappointed too.

Carl V. Anderson said...

It is always hard to know how to respond to opinions that are different than one's own, especially because the opposite opinion is truly every bit as valuable as one's own. I am one who loved Time Traveler's Wife. I was fortunate in that I didn't really read or get into all the hype before reading it. I knew it was popular and I knew several people who liked it but I hadn't really heard anything at all about the book. I found it to be an amazing reading experience. I think character development is certainly a matter of opinion and I felt such a strong attraction to the characters that I cried through the last 50 or so pages. It was knowing what was coming that made it so profoundly sad. The inevitability of it all. Loved it.

I have heard similar complaints to yours regarding cultural references leveled at the movie Juno. I honestly think this is the sort of writing that one either likes or doesn't. I personally don't find this sort of writing pretentious or superior...I love all the various cultural references. They place the character in a time and everyone I know has a wide range of interests so I love seeing characters that do as well. Again, I think this sort of writing is all a matter of personal taste.

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it but am glad you gave it a full read in making your assessment of it. If we all liked the same books, what a dull world this would be.