The Tragic Optimist

Book Tour – Time Traveler’s Wife (Ann’s Responses)

It’s time again for another Barren Bitches book tour (I participated in the last one where we discussed Children of Men). This time the book is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is one of my favorite books – how could it not be? One of the main characters is an academic librarian, and there are multiple scenes of him ending up naked in the library. Anyway. In my mind, it’s one of the best love stories that I’ve read. A true romance that just happens to involve involuntary time travel. And libraries.

Once again, Mel at Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters is organizing the book tour. You can hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list of participants . You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein.

I also managed to convince Chris to join us, since I thought he’d really like the book. So he’s posting his answers to questions on my blog too. So if you’re looking for responses, take a look at both of our posts. We answered different questions.

If you were able to communicate with a past or future version of yourself, how much would you tell them? How much would you want to know? Discuss how well you think Clare and Henry struck this balance, giving examples of points and ways in which they conveyed or withheld information.

and

In the “TTW” the main character can at times, know what happens in the future, even though he can’t change it. In terms of infertility, I often wonder if I had been able to know what the end result of all this would be if I could be at peace with it, even if I couldn’t change it. How do you feel about that? If you could know what was going to happen sometime in the future in regards to your IF would you choose to know and not be able to change it, or continue the way you are and get to that place unaware of the final destination?

I’m answering these two questions as one. I’d like to think that I would not tell myself too much, that I do like being surprised and not knowing what will happen. But that’s not true. In reality, as soon as I get to a suspenseful part of a book, I have to look at the last page to figure out if a character survives or not. The thing is, I don’t need to know exactly what happens, just whether or not things turn out ok. I know that if I could have jumped ahead to find out if we would be successful in our attempt to conceive, I would have done that. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that, since we were in the end successful. I’m not sure though if I would have wanted to know if we hadn’t been successful. On one hand, knowing that, maybe I could have moved on, but I think I sometimes I cling too much to hope, even to my detriment (tragic optimist and all that). I’m not sure I would have accepted that as the truth if that’s what it really had been.

How did it change Henry and Claire’s relationship in that Claire always knew she would marry Henry, but Henry had no knowledge of Claire until they meet when he was 28? Why did the author choose to have their meeting set up this way, when Henry could have told his younger self about how he would meet Claire?

I think in some ways, it must have taken away a little of the stress that comes with really loving a person and hoping that they feel the same way and worrying that it might lead to being hurt. If you know that you end up happily married, then there’s less fear of giving up control and trusting the other person. But then, it must have been a little anti-climactic. One of the thrills of starting a relationship is not knowing exactly how it all turns out. It also led to Claire missing out on a lot of dating relationships before Henry. While I don’t pine for any of my past boyfriends, I am glad that I had those past relationships – even the bad ones – since they informed so much of how I interact with other people. I think it must have been horribly frustrating for Claire to know how things would end up with Henry, but having to deal with him still not knowing that.
“My body wanted a baby. I felt empty and I wanted to be full. I wanted someone to love who would stay: stay and be there, always. And I wanted Henry to be in this child, so that when he was gone, he wouldn’t be entirely gone, there would be a bit of him with me.” For me, this quote encapsulates the incredibly complex and sad contradictions at the heart of the book. Henry is not truly there. It’s his time travelling which leaves Claire alone and at the same time causes her to miscarry. Her longing for a piece of him can’t be filled, as she can’t hang on to his child. Putting aside the perception of a child as someone who gives eternal love, I am taken by this image of the child as a reflection of the father. How do you feel about this? If you have used or considered donor gametes, has this been an issue for you or your partner? The loss of a genetic line, the acceptance that the child may not be “a part of” the parent? Is the grieving worse for the partner who does not use their own eggs/sperm, or for the other parent, who doesn’t get to hold onto a tiny piece of their partner? Or is the essence of a parent passed on regardless of the genetic link?

I agree that this passage really summed up a lot of the yearning that Claire experienced, and it really rang true for me. We never really experienced the possibility of needing to use donor sperm or eggs, but I think it would have been hard for both of us to come to terms with that. I know that there are parts of Chris that I had hoped for in a child and now look for in Zoe. It must be an even stronger urge when you know that your partner may not be around much longer, as Claire must have feared with Henry. It’s unfair for us to expect that our children be reflections of us, or to at least preserve a bit of us, but I think it’s a very human trait to want your children to be an extension of yourself and your partner. I don’t believe that genetics is the only way to see your partner in your child, but perhaps it’s the most easily recognizable? I know that I want my daughter to have her father’s curly hair (he disagrees with me on that).

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1 Comment

  1. I just read this novel last week. Oh, I loved it! The references to music and libraries (sigh—I miss my Library Boy from 10 years ago) and all the French and German (that I didn’t understand, but tried to get the gist of). The Violent Femmes concert on pages 157-158 was perfect. Audrey Niffenegger is such a talented writer.

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