Friday, May 23, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife (book) - Read-alikes

I can't help thinking about appeal factors and potential read-alikes when I read things. My "readers' advisory for adults" class in library school has done that to me. I had to read Joyce G. Saricks' Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library - an excellent book that made me more systematically consider how to come up with potential read-alikes. This post will go over some of the appeal factors of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, as well as some potential read-alikes. I can't do this sort of detailed post for everything I read and watch, because it takes way too much time and I read way too much, but I'll try to do it whenever I can.

The pacing is engrossing and compelling. As the story progresses, Claire and Henry's past and future is revealed in bits and pieces. However, it should also be noted that some people may be bored by the pacing - Niffenegger spends a lot of time talking about things like Claire's art, the music Henry likes, Claire's miscarriages, etc.

The characters, especially Henry and Claire, are very well-developed and realistic. These are not perfect people, and their relationship has its rocky moments. Henry was a heavy drinker and drug user before he met Claire and started to change himself, and he was also a bit of a jerk who could've treated his girlfriend better. I can't really think of any of Claire's faults, other than maybe a certain obliviousness and weakness when it comes to Gomez, a friend who wanted to be more than a friend, despite being in a relationship with Claire's best female friend. Although minor characters don't get nearly the same level of detailed treatment, they are just as believable as Henry and Claire. There's the self-destructive and probably insightful Ingrid, Gomez, the anti-capitalist who's friends with Claire and Henry, and more. Although it's possible to sum many of these characters up with a few words, there's never a feeling that these few words are all these characters are. Instead, it feels as though these are fully-developed people who just don't have a chance, within the constraints of this story, to reveal all their hidden corners.

This book is very character centered. The things that happen to them are real-life and everyday, if your life and days are affected by involuntary time travel. The story is told through snippets from either Henry or Claire's perspectives, with careful notes about what day it is and what Claire and Henry's ages are at the beginning of each snippet. As things progress, you see more of Claire and Henry's thoughts and feelings as they try to live their lives and be together, despite Henry's condition. The story is also thought-provoking. You can't help but think about the picture Niffenegger paints of time travel - it feels like a real-life thing and makes you think about how something like this might affect real-life people. It can also lead to discussions about real-life situations that are a little like Henry and Claire's experiences. For instance, Claire's constant waiting for Henry is a little like a military wife whose husband can be deployed at any moment. Then he's gone, and there's the waiting for a homecoming or for some sign that he has died.

Frame and tone:
The setting is very detailed and was one of the main reasons I started the book. I was going to Chicago to take part in a program at the Newberry Library - this book is set in Chicago and Henry works at the Newberry Library. The streets Niffenegger mentions all exist, and it's fun to read this book after having been in the Newberry Library. Since it's a closed stack library, it really is possible for someone like Henry to walk around in the stacks naked without anybody noticing. In addition to the location, events take place mostly between the 1970s and 2008 - that wasn't as big a deal to me as the whole Chicago thing, so I'm not sure if the story felt as grounded in its times as it felt, to me, like it was grounded in its places. There's a lot of foreshadowing in the book, so, despite some lovely happy moments (and the occasional funny moment), there's a sense of impending tragedy.

By itself, each snippet is written in a way that seems perfect for the character - Henry has times when he muses about things and feels a little darker, young Claire has rambling run-on sentences, and older Claire is introspective. Claire and Henry's time-lines intersect in a way that seems natural and beautifully done. I still find myself wondering how Niffenegger managed it - did she have a huge chart or something?


Now for the good stuff. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. Unless I say otherwise, I'm listing these as read-alikes because I've read them and I know that there are aspects in these books that are similar to this one. If you want more than what I've listed here, try the Hennepin County Library's If You Liked list - I haven't read many of the books on the list, so I'm hesitant to use them in my list, but the annotations are great.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - In Claire Randall's present it is 1945 and she is married to a man named Frank. However, she gets transported back to 1743, where she meets Frank's evil British ancestor and ends up becoming the lover (and maybe wife, I can't remember) of James Fraser, a Scot. It's a long book (over 600 pages), partially because Gabaldon loves including details - the stuff Claire learns about healing in 1743 is fascinating. It's doesn't have tons of back-and-forth time travel, but it does have people realistically trying to think through some complicated relationships.
  • Second Glance by Jodi Picoult (I haven't read this - this is mentioned in the Fiction_L Archives, and I read up on it in - it sounds like a good match and I wouldn't mind reading it myself eventually) - Like The Time Traveler's Wife, the characters in this book are vivid and well-developed. After his beloved Aimee dies, Ross Wakeman repeatedly attempts suicide. He eventually gets drawn into an investigation of a piece of land that might be an old Indian burial ground. There's a large cast of characters woven into this elaborate story. It sounds like there's love, explorations of events in the past and present that are intertwined, and mysterious goings-on, all in an engrossing story.
  • A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux - This is a more traditional romance novel than The Time Traveler's Wife. Dougless is vacationing in England with her lover, Robert, and his spoiled teenage daughter when he decides to abandon her. Nicholas Stafford, an earl from the 1560s finds her and she ends up on an adventure with him to restore his good name. She spends some time in his time period, while he spends some time in hers, so both of them have to deal with unusual circumstances. The ending is not what I have come to think of as the usual, predictable time travel romance ending. It's got the "love across time" aspect, like The Time Traveler's Wife, and it's not entirely the usual time travel romance, so it may hit the spot. This is not, however, literary fiction, so keep that in mind. It's been a few years since I read this, but I remember it being the first time travel romance I ever enjoyed. On a funny note, the back of my 1989 paperback copy has Dougless' name misspelled every single time.
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - It's been ages since I read it, and I spent most of my time desperately trying to keep up with as many of the literary references as I could (I ended up feeling less than literate, since my tastes run to the current, not the classic), so bear with me. Although it's not complicated in the same way as The Time Traveler's Wife, it's still complicated. In an alternate universe's England, Thursday Next is an operative in the Literary Division of Special Operations Network. Thursday is trying to stop a dastardly criminal who is damaging cherished literature by stealing characters from the original manuscripts, thus changing all the available copies of those works. You don't really have to know the works Fforde refers to, but it probably adds a level of fun if you do. This book kind of sounds like something Claire and Henry might read and discuss together. I think of this as a "literary mystery" or maybe just "literary fiction."

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