I watched one of my very favorite movies of all time last night – Back to the Future. Please stop laughing at me… it’s a classic. It had some of the best movie lines ever (“He’s an idiot – it comes from upbringing”, “1.21 gigawatts? Great scott!”) and I love the mid-50’s and mid-80’s garb. (No, I never owned a pair of acid washed jeans with paper bag waist. Not me).
Watching Back to the Future made me think of a book I just finished last week, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It too dealt with the ever perplexing concept of time travel and the space-time continuum, but that’s where the similarities stop. Whereas Back to the Future was funny and lighthearted, The Time Traveler’s Wife was deep, heavy and downright depressing. In fact, I think Audrey Niffenegger could use counseling.
The main character, Henry, has something terribly wrong with his DNA which causes him to time travel beyond his control. He never knows when or where he’s going to travel, either into the future or in the past. There’s no fooling with time machines or flux capacitors, he just disappears and reappears somewhere else.
Also, unlike our hero Marty in Back to the Future, who ends up in 1955 in his down vest and Nikes, Henry cannot take anything with him to where he’s going, so he ends up in odd places wearing only his birthday suit. This causes problems in freezing cold weather, as you can imagine.
I won’t spoil the plot or the hideous ending for you if you’re interested in reading this pompous piece of literature, but let me just say one thing – Audrey Niffeneger likes to torture men. She may not be an axe murderer in real life but her writing is certainly disturbed. She brought new meaning to the concept of “tragic hero”. Henry’s entire life was a tragedy, including his mother’s ghastly death when he was a child (which he has to revisit from time to time), his unloving father’s treatment of him, his failed romantic relationships and his inability to control his time traveling. It just got worse as the chapters droned on.
Speaking of droning on, this book was loooonnnnngggg. Way longer than it needed to be. Where was Niffenegger’s editor? He or she should have taken the proverbial red pen to her manuscript and chopped it in half.
Now, let me take this moment to shamelessly plug one of my very favorite books of all time, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. This was one of the funniest, most clever and wellwritten books I’ve ever read. It ‘s about time travel and romance but it’s witty and happy. The characters aren’t pretentious, tortured or tragic and it’s all over in 100 less pages than “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. Reading this book was time well spent. Wish I could have said the same for The Time Traveler’s Wife.