Karen Tintori has a BA in journalism from Wayne State University, lives in Michigan and holds dual US-Italian citizenship. Her novels, written with Jill Gregory, have been translated into 18 languages. The most recent of them is the internationally best-selling mystical thriller, The Book of Names. Their next thriller is due later this year. Karen is also the author of Trapped: The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster and Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family. Below, she writes about Audrey Niffeneger's The Time Traveler's Wife.
Karen Tintori on The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a magical novel that captivated me from its opening pages, kept me spellbound throughout, and had me revisiting its scenes long after I'd reluctantly finished the story of Clare Abshire and Henry De Tamble. It also led to many stimulating conversations with writer friends. Scotland on Sunday calls The Time Traveler's Wife 'alarmingly close to perfection', and this enthralling novel has captivated other readers, as well. A recent check of Amazon.com shows it has racked up more than 1,500 customer reviews, nearly two-thirds of those ranking it five-stars.
Fans of the novel can look forward to spending more time with Clare and Henry. A movie based on the 518-page novel is currently in post-production, starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as the wife and husband who first meet when Clare is only six years old and Henry, age 36, has journeyed back in time to visit with her for the first time.
With this superbly crafted first novel, Niffenegger, a professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts, may have redefined 'high concept'. Part thriller, part 'soaring love story' (Publishers Weekly), part odyssey, part fantasy, part 'forceful romance with a fascinating science-fiction wrinkle' (The Sunday Times), part comedy, The Time Traveler's Wife is an innovative collage of genres that meld together as tightly as the fibres the adult Clare layers on her screens to create handmade papers. Unfolding from the points of view of its two main characters at various ages, the novel sweeps across time and space. While Clare lives out her life in the usual chronological fashion, Henry bounces around on his non-linear journey. Yet, in Niffenegger's hands, we are never dizzy.
From childhood, I have been a voracious reader, but since becoming an author, my ability to fall under the spell of a good book and lose myself in its pages has changed irreversibly. One of the curses of being a professional writer is that I - we - can't help 'noticing' other writers' craft. Try though I might to read for pure enjoyment, I ultimately find myself stepping out of a story, sometimes merely by noticing how another writer has turned a phrase or segued to another point of view. Occasionally, I'm jarred by an author's false note; at other times, I'll go back to tear apart and learn from something expertly done. Niffenegger, however, trapped me within her world the entire time - and more. Whenever I had to pull myself away from Clare and Henry, I couldn't wait to get back to them. They stayed with me when I was awake and when I was asleep. It was only after I'd digested their story, talked about it with fellow writers, that I had any notion of going back into the book to examine how she'd so deftly woven this time-complex story.
Like Niffenegger, I've written stories told from differing points of view or in a non-linear fashion. Trapped: The 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster recounts the United States' worst coal mine fire. Its narrative alternates in real time between the life and death battle of the miners trapped below ground and the fight to save them by their families, employers and rescuers above. My second narrative non-fiction, Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family was similarly written as a chronological story, but my editor challenged me to weave together the events of my family's story to highlight repeating patterns and parallels. It was head-breaking work to tear that narrative apart and retell the story of a long-held family secret by travelling back and forth between rural Sicily and urban Detroit, back and forth between the late 1800s, the era of the Roaring Twenties, the 60s, 70s and beyond, always keeping mindful of exactly what each of the characters knew - and how much of the mystery the reader would know - at every point in the journey.
That challenging and complicated experience made me admire Niffenegger even more.
When we first meet Clare and Henry in the prologue, we learn that Clare is always waiting for him, and that Henry is forced to travel where she cannot follow. Without warning, the Chicago librarian can find himself whisked out of his shoes and clothes and plopped into the past (and sometimes the future), arriving as disoriented and naked as the day he was born. Some travels take him to Clare, others embroil him in misadventures. Always, Henry is clueless to predict the length of his sojourns. Young Clare soon learns to keep a stash of clothing hidden away for her drop-in visitor, and later learns to hide him away as well.
The reader, like Clare, has had glimpses of her future with Henry, for he's told young Clare they will one day marry, when their lives finally converge in 'real time'. By that time, he is 'really' 28 and she is 'really' 20, and he is baffled as to why the lovely young artist seems to know him so well - for in 'real time' another eight years will pass before Henry leaves his wife to visit her childhood self for the very first time.
The Time Traveler's Wife is not only a poignant story of Clare and Henry's interrupted relationship, a tale of longing and patience, separation and reunion. Ultimately, it is a lesson to live our lives fully in the moment, for Niffenegger's ultimate gift to her readers is the message that all any of us ever truly have is our 'real time', our here and now.