I was confused and thought this book was Octavia Butler's Kindred. I bought The Time Traveler's Wife while I was far from home and didn't open it untiI was confused and thought this book was Octavia Butler's Kindred. I bought The Time Traveler's Wife while I was far from home and didn't open it until I got back to the US and when I started I felt obligated to finish. The Time Traveler's Wife is lackluster. The characters are too pretty, their struggles too idealized, and the writing is spare (something I usually really love) but in a boring way. Every once in a while Niffenegger uses time travel a bit interestingly, but if I read more speculative fiction I bet even that would be very standard. The writing isn't bad enough to warrant one star (though you could play a drinking game to all of the orange/magenta/tangerine sky variations; add in the word 'galumphing' if you're trying to make reading the book tolerable) but the content really made me angry. Being angry is not a good way to enjoy this book.
This is a novel about a beautiful couple who don't have any real problems with each other except for the guy's time traveling. Even if we are to understand that they have to cherish their time together/love is eternal and timeless/whatever, there should be fights sometimes! These two barely fight and when they do it is always a disagreement about some sort of decision to make, never a problem with each other. Reading a book about time travel requires suspending disbelief, but even the ordinary (their relationships) is too perfect. And why do we know the race of everyone in this book without ever addressing race? Clare and Henry are somehow in a post-racist 1976? 1985? 1992? 2003? If Niffenegger doesn't want to thoughtfully address race maybe she shouldn't mention it for literally every character. (The woman who does Clare's hair for her wedding almost made it through but then we got her 'brown hands' during the last lines of the chapter. Thanks, Audrey.). I hesitate at even starting to explain my frustrations with Nell, Clare's family's long-time cook and pretty much a perfect example of the "Mammy" stereotype. We know Nell is black and a great cook and she speaks in dialect and loves Clare's family and at one point Nell lovingly scolds Henry for not ringing the bell in the living room when he wants something from the kitchen. SERIOUSLY? I get that Niffenegger is writing a romance and that that includes giving the reader a fairly ideal world (artist and librarian protagonist couple, beautiful red-haired heroine with a wealthy family and fairy tale wedding resources) but she also emphasizes the couple's intellectualism throughout the book and then fails to have the characters exhibit any sort of political awareness. Clare's family has "servants" and because they are treated well we are supposed to accept Clare's family's wealth and privilege? Niffenegger even repeatedly and explicitly brings up Clare and Henry's Marxist tendencies. They play an altered game of Marxist Monopoly with their friends! Yet Henry time travels so that he and Clare win the lottery and never have to worry about money. Clare feels a little torn about this but any sort of dilemma is brushed away quickly because she wants to have a large studio for her art (feels pretty entitled to one, I guess) and Henry's faux-Marxist excuse (that this behavior is subversive because of the government's problematic lottery system) prevails. Uh, ok? And really, I can't get over this, why is there a Mammy character and why is Nell so secondary? And why doesn't this bother anyone in the book? IT BOTHERS ME SO MUCH.
So I spent most of this monstrous, 518-page book steaming about how it is a romance novel that attempts to be intellectual without engaging with any of the racial or economic realities it introduces. I want to be more forgiving but I really can't excuse the use of politics as a prop--I think the couple's multi-ethnic, Anarchist/Marxist group of friends is meant to make them more likable, but ultimately Clare and Henry get all sorts of privileges and we're supposed to just ignore that and be happy for them because they have so many other struggles (time travel). I just got mad. I guess I am glad I read The Time Traveler's Wife so that I'm familiar with such a big bestseller, but my best advice would be to read Kindred instead....more
My favorite new book in 2008. Probably the best thing I read in 2008, new or otherwise. Jhumpa Lahiri's style and stories are unassuming but really beMy favorite new book in 2008. Probably the best thing I read in 2008, new or otherwise. Jhumpa Lahiri's style and stories are unassuming but really beautiful; many passages and scenes lingered with me for a long time. Her understanding of relationships, of families, is astounding. I love this collection....more
Octavia Butler writes with such clarity and inertia that I don't even mind that I didn't like this collection much. Missed my subway stop as pages turOctavia Butler writes with such clarity and inertia that I don't even mind that I didn't like this collection much. Missed my subway stop as pages turned and turned. She's got big ideas and I like big ideas. She does admit that she's a novelist over a story writer, though, and I agree. The prose wasn't really very different from Parable of the Sower, it's just the pacing--stilted. Many of these stories felt like ideas, ideas that are tacked to the board, stark. Ok, I see what you're doing here. Ok, that's good. But I missed the complexity of Kindred, the time to really wonder about all the details. Plus the title story gave me the creeps in the way that X-Files episodes sometimes freak me out. That might be more about me, though. I think I might prefer Butler's speculative fiction, the heart-heavy but still heart-filled curiosity-driven stories, to some of the more gruesome sci fi.
That said, "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" struck me both as an idea and as a tale. And it's really fun to read her afterwords! Even when you're creeping me out, Octavia, I wanna be your friend so bad....more
I just skimmed a few other Goodreads reviews of Parable of the Sower and felt confused about why difficult subject matter seems to be a weakness to maI just skimmed a few other Goodreads reviews of Parable of the Sower and felt confused about why difficult subject matter seems to be a weakness to many readers. If anything, I wish Octavia Butler were around so I could thank her for that. She wrote about survival, change, and power with incredible insight; she grapples with some Big Stuff but her novel, ideas, and genre also manage to be accessible. Butler's clarity is a strength and perhaps a stylistic weakness, but mostly I think there's something great about directly addressing change and survival--noting the potential horrors but also the possibilities of change, of creation, of our responsibility to ourselves and each other. Butler made that clear while maintaining the complexities of survival, and inspiring a lot of additional thought. On top of that, she demonstrated how sci fi can be relevant to race and gender issues, and how literature can be relevant, and enjoyable, for important work. I get so excited when I realize how remarkable that is, particularly while reading, and that happened often during Parable of the Sower. Right now I'm thinking of Octavia B as sort of a cross between Doris Lessing and Kazuo Ishiguro and Toni Morrison and oh, I just love her....more