The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
A dual book review with comparisons/contrasts
In less than a year I’ve read two remarkable books which pit man against time in very different ways. In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife Henry de Tamble is a man with a remarkably quirky affliction. He’s a time traveler. In The Confessions of Max Tivoli, the title character suffers from the unusual affliction of aging in reverse. Time travel stories are far from new. Many an author has tackled time travel, as far back as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and H.G. Wells The Time Machine we’ve seen man in a constant struggle to conquer time, to visit time’s past, or those yet to come.
The Time Traveler’s Wife was the first book I've ever read that portrayed time travel as an affliction, an unwanted disease. See, unlike the protagonists in most time travel novels, Henry de Tamble has no control of when he time travels from and when he travels to. It’s only through the budding friendship of a young girl, Clare, who later becomes Henry’s wife, that he is able to gain some semblance of control over his “chrono-displacement” affliction. While difficult to follow at first, once I got into the book I couldn’t put it down. It was so refreshing to read a book which portrayed time-travel in such a different light than it had been portrayed in countless other novels and films. Part of the charm of this book is that the relationship between Henry and Clare feels so real. It’s not overly flowery or sentimental. It’s a relationship that any of us who have ever experienced love would feel familiar with. This realistic portrayal actually makes the time travel aspect seem that much more real to the reader. After all, all relationships have their problems… but not too many people can say the first time they met their mate they were eight or ten and their mate was in his forties, but when they married they were roughly the same age as each other.
The Confessions of Max Tivoli is not a time-travel story in the traditional sense, but once again, time is the enemy. Max Tivoli ages in reverse. Born withered like a raisin, resembling more an old man than an infant, as he grows older he appears younger. Greer’s writing style is a bit more flowery and poetic than Niffenegger’s but not to the point of distraction from the plot. Set in turn of the century San Francisco, Greer includes several specific details that make the San Francisco of his novel, feel like home to the reader.
At age 17, appearing to be a man in his 50s, Max falls in love with a 14 year old, Alice, and through some interesting misunderstandings gets into a romantic dalliance with Alice’s mother. Guided throughout his life by his love for Alice and the lengths he’s willing to go to be with her and his near unwavering resolve to keep his secret from her, Max goes to some rather extraordinary lengths and sacrifices under the guise of love. At one point he goes so far as to “disappear” and ignore all of the people who know his secret, so as not to let Alice discover the truth. But The Confessions of Max Tivoli isn’t just a love story—it’s two love stories and with that, I leave you, the reader to discover these well-told tales for yourself.