the pseudonymous exploits of wombat boy

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Time-Traveler's Wife 

I bought the novel The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger because it's a time-travel love story, a genre I've always enjoyed (Groundhog Day, Replay, etc). In fact I like anything, be it movie or novel or TV show, that plays with the time dimension in an interesting way, or shows the same thing from different people's perspective. There are some great episodes of the British TV shows Coupling and Red Dwarf that do this for instance. The trouble with being a connoisseur of this kind of thing is that it raises the bar for anything new in the field that I read or watch. In particular I kept comparing this novel with F.M. Busby's beautiful 1974 short story If This is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy". It's a pretty damning comparison - The Time Traveler's Wife takes over 500 pages of repetitive, sentimental and basically unedited prose to tell a story that F.M. Busby tells in 40 pages. I also think that if you have a character who physically travels in time, (actually moves his body from one place to another, rather than just jumping along his own life line), you need an explanation beyond something being vaguely wrong with his DNA. That's like my car developing the ability to teleport because of a manufacturing fault. And The Time Traveler's Wife is so long that almost the whole of the last 300 pages is stuff that has been pretty conclusively given away by the looped time line. I say hunt down a copy of F.M. Busby's perfect short story (it's been published as a slim volume, and is in a lot of science fiction anthologies) and make the comparison for yourself.
Well, I have just read Busby's "If this is Winetka, You Must Be Judy", and I have to say, it must have been a long time since you read it.
The writing is perfunctory and stilted, the lead character is a big ol' bastard, and there's absolutely no attempt at explaining why he experiences his life out of chronological order. But, not only is there no explanation for this unusual problem, but enough other people have it that he's able to find and live out his life with one - but neither of them seems particularly interested in why they experience their lives out of order.
And speaking of the "love story" aspect of this time-travel story, the female characters are charicatures, who seem to appear in the story mainly for the sexual and visual gratification of the lead character. The prose is laughable - one of the love interests is described as being "like a minx with it's tail on fire!" in bed. I honestly didn't think I could go on after that. I did, but it really wasn't worth my time.

If this is a perfect short story, I'll stick to novels. To sum up: utterly forgettable.
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