On the plane home tonight, I just finished reading The Time-Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Time-travel is a tricky literary device. Handled badly, the work gets bogged down in the mechanics and the story, when it gets a paragraph now and then, suffers for it. This book, however, did very little explaining, and the story was so compelling that you began to take time-travel as a normal and expected fact of life. It helps if the author has a deft touch with language, too.
I was taken, for instance, with this passage. In the book, Henry, the time-traveler, first meets Clare, his life-long love, when she is a child of about 10 and he’s an adult. He exercises admirable forbearance as he meets her several times while she matures, until the day he and Clare are about to have sex for the first time. Although it’s a picnic in the middle of a meadow, they’ve dressed formally:
I shrug off my jacket and undo the tie. Clare kneels and we remove the studs deftly and with the concentration of a bomb squad.
And I can’t resist another, which occurs at an Iggy Pop concert:
she dances seriously, like lives are hanging in the balance, like precision dancing can save the starving children in India.
As I said, I bought completely into the seamless transitioning between linear existence and temporal hop-scotching, and sometimes, after I put the book down, I wasn’t sure that I was completely moored in the present, that I wasn’t watching myself from some detached remove. This was reinforced a bit because I was visiting my mother last weekend, in the town and house I grew up in.
We were out for a walk one evening and we passed the intersection of East Boundary and Sixth Street. I glanced up Sixth, first as a reflex because my high school girl friend (now wife) lived on Sixth. As I did, my eyes came to rest on the curb a little way from the intersection, and for a moment I became unhinged in time a little bit. That particular bit of curb is where we would pull over on the way between my house and hers to neck, and I swear I could see us in my dad’s Chevy station wagon, and I could smell the wool of her sweater and the perfume she wore at the time.
I was a couple classes ahead of her in school, and it seemed a little like Henry’s time-travelling when I would come home from college and take her out. As I stood there last weekend, I also felt the grains of impatience that scratched at our vehicular pleasures, and I didn’t have the advantage that Henry had of knowing how sweetly things would turn out.