One of my very favorite books is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Set in Chicago, my adopted city, this love story is an old-fashioned romance intertwined with a most bizarre set of circumstances: our hero Henry is an unwilling time traveler, while his wife, our heroine Clare, waits for his return.
It’s a classic theme in romantic tales, but in The Time Traveler’s Wife, the plot feels fresh, exciting, almost spellbinding. Earlier this year, I reread it again and felt Matt’s absence so deeply that it made me ache. I have come to believe that a long-distance romance is probably the closest real-life example to Henry and Clare. It is an exaggeration, of course—Matt only changes time zones when he travels—but I feel Clare’s sense of waiting and her joy when she is reunited with Henry. There is nothing like separation to heighten the pleasure of being together.
Like Clare, sometimes rather than think about how much I miss Matt, I just make myself really, really busy. I’m in one of those modes right now, although with my thesis deadline looming large, being busy is hardly optional. Matt and I are in a strange spot. Normally we’d be making plans to see each other this month or thereabouts, since we haven’t been together since California in May, but due to a clash of schedules and demands, we won’t see each other again until October. I’m getting a little choked up right now, just seeing that in print. I can only imagine how Clare must have felt in the years—literally, years—that she spends waiting for Henry at different times in her life. A couple of months is hardly something to get all sniffly over!
And yet, I do get sniffly over it. Why do I continue to see Matt, knowing that he needs more space to roam than a herd of buffalo? Knowing that I have to be as willing to let him go as I am to hold him? I see him because I love him. And I love him because he understands me better than any other person I’ve ever known. He wants to understand me. Despite the distance between us, I feel closer to him than anyone else, even though I have not touched him in over two months.
In The Time Traveler’s Wife, time loops over itself and Henry begins sharing his adulthood with Clare the Adult and Clare the Child. Clare’s past becomes Henry’s present. In this way, the joining of Henry and Clare’s lives feels fatalistic. I don’t know how it would feel to love someone under those circumstances. I don’t believe I’ve ever “fallen in love.” I believe I choose to love. Or maybe I just give love a chance and wait to see what happens. With Matt, it was like tiptoeing into love. Every day I felt my heart nudge me forward, and rather than scurrying backward, I took a step. Is it less romantic to choose love than it is to feel as though time and fate have collaborated to bring you together with your soul mate? I don’t know. All I know is that The Time Traveler’s Wife makes me cry. Then it makes me count my lucky stars that Matt and I ever met each other in the first place.
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Shortly after I reread The Time Traveler’s Wife for the nth time, I discovered a movie version is coming out! I scratched my head in confusion, unable to decide how I felt about this. In the book, I love the narratives by Henry and Clare. Their voices set the mood and bring the story to life. For a person like me, who tends to see the world not through my eyes but rather through my heart, this book is just perfect. With no visual images to distract me, I could lose myself in the tide of emotion that moves the plot forward. How will a movie capture that mood and that sense of wonder, without losing itself in cheesy special effects, sappy music, or melodramatic acting?
One of the things I like best about the book is that it is an adult love story. Sex is deeply intertwined in the plot. It is also a means through which Henry and Clare express their longing, their desire, their love. I don’t want the movie to tone down the heat of the story; I want it to remain true to the sensuality and intent of the written story.
In addition, this romance is a sad story. Its ending is, at best, bittersweet, but it is also lovely and beautiful. It feels right to me. I’m especially nervous that a movie version will change the ending to make it happier. I want to see the book’s sadness and despair brought to life. Sometimes love is at its best when it is painful.
But despite all this, I have to see this movie. I feel compelled to see how The Time Traveler’s Wife will translate to the big screen. The movie opens August 14, 2009. Would anyone like to join me? Leave me a comment here or send me an e-mail. I’ll bring the tissues, and maybe we can sneak some cookies into the theater!