By Laura P. Valtorta
It took me three readings to understand how Audrey Niffenegger took a vain protagonist (Claire Abshire) dropped her into a completely implausible situation (time travel backwards and forwards) and made a wonderful book out of it. The answer is depth.
The main character in The Time Traveler’s Wife, (2003) who also narrates the story along with her time-traveling husband, is a beautiful, charming redhead with a pencil thin mouth (she describes it “like a geisha” in order to make a thin mouth attractive) who sounds a lot like the author. Claire first meets her husband, Henry, when she is 6 and Henry is 36. Henry has time traveled backwards. He has no control over his chronological fits.
Claire comes from a wealthy family. Like Audrey, she earns her living as an artist. But Audrey Niffenegger the author is not married. Both main characters, Henry and Claire, are grossly good looking and nauseatingly sexy.
What makes this story readable and irresistible is that it contains meaningful questions about chaos, determinism, the effect of time on personality, Patty Hearst, picking locks, running from the law, love, art, music, and books. These questions form the heart of the book.
If I met Claire or Henry in real life, I would run the other way. The characters are slop and the story is ridiculous. The author, however, has something important to say.