The Time Traveler’s Wife Summary

Aubrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife

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The Time Traveler’s Wife Summary

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Aubrey Niffenegger’s debut novel The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) was a runaway bestseller and adapted to a major film in 2009. Niffenegger wrote it while going through an emotionally distant and complicated relationship.

Blending elements of realism, science fiction, and romance, Niffenegger’s major themes include the uncontrollable nature of love, the precariousness of free will, and the inevitable miscommunications between any two people.

Henry DeTamble and Clare Anne Abshire “meet” in a library in Chicago. In the prologue, the reader learns that Clare’s narrative is chronological while Henry is atemporal.

In alternating first person perspectives, the reader quickly discovers that they have met before. Clare is thrilled to meet him, but Harry, a librarian, believes that they are strangers. Clare, an art student who makes paper sculptures, says she has known him since 1977, when she was six.

Henry agrees to go to dinner with her. She claims she knows all about his time traveling disorder, and that they first met when he was forty-three and she was six. As proof, she shows him a diary that shows all the dates of his visits. Freaked out but attracted to her, Henry asks if they can pretend this is their first date. She agrees, and the two discuss their respective families. They visit Henry’s messy apartment and make love.

Henry recalls the very first time he time traveled. He was five. His parents took him to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Suddenly, Henry was a teenager taking a job working at the museum. A twenty-four-year-old Henry explained to him that he is a time traveler and he cannot tell anyone. His older self gives him the skills he needs to survive: dodging the police, stealing, robbery.

When Henry is forty-three, he finds himself in a meadow near Clare’s childhood home on Lake Michigan. Clare is six, and Henry takes care not to disturb her too much when he asks borrow her picnic blanket to cover himself. He explains he is a time-traveler and tells her the dates of his future appearances. Henry vanishes right in front of her. Days pass, and Clare prepares to greet Henry again with a pair of her father’s clothes. When he reappears, Clare believes his story.

When and where Henry travels to is beyond his control; it seems, though, to be tied to his subconscious moods. When overly stressed, he goes jogging so as not to time travel.

As a child and adolescent, Clare spends a lot of time with forty-three-year-old Henry. He does not tell her the details of their relationships and she likes him. She is judged to be odd by her peers for not liking boys her own age. As Clare grows, she makes advances toward Henry that he rebuffs while assuring that he loves her.

Around Christmas, Clare hides Henry in her parents’ reading room. She learns that he despises Christmas because it is the day that his mother died when he was six. He lived only because he time traveled. He feels guilty over the accident and thinks he should have died with her.

As an art student in college, Clare invites Henry to meet her friends and family. Her roommate’s boyfriend, Gomez, dislikes Henry because he has seen him steal clothes and beat up people for cash. Gomez confronts Henry, and Henry reveals his identity; he also time travels in front of Gomez. This only makes Gomez more adamant that Henry is the wrong guy for Clare. She disagrees, and says her future self has chosen him as a partner.

After Henry meets her parents, the two are married, though Clare marries an older version of Henry because the present version is time traveling.

Part two begins when the two are married. Henry is frequently gone. Clare feels trapped in their small apartment and, like her art, is not going anywhere. Henry puts his time traveling condition to good use when he gives Clare the future numbers to the Illinois lottery and she wins 8 million dollars.

Henry finds his future doctor, Dr. Kendrick, and tells him he has a time traveling condition that will be called “Chrono-Impairment.” Kendrick is disbelieving until he watches Henry disappear.

Clare wants a baby, but goes through six miscarriages because “chrono-impairment” is heredity and the developing embryo time travels out of her womb. Henry gets a vasectomy to stop giving Clare false hope. But later, a younger Henry visits Clare and impregnates her. Henry travels to the future and meets his ten-year-old daughter, Alba. She tells him that he died when she was five and he was forty-three. Devastated, Henry tries to keep his future death a secret from Clare.

When Clare finds Henry on the living room floor one day with severe frostbite, his feet have to be amputated. They both fear for his future safety; without legs, he is unlikely to survive future time travels. Dr. Kendrick says he can help Alba, but not Henry during his lifetime. After a New Year’s party, Henry senses that he will time travel and likely die. He spends his last moments with Clare. When he time travels, he is hunted and accidentally shot by her brother.

After his death, Henry frequently time travels to see Alba. Clare waits for his visits but for some reason he does not appear. When she is eighty-two, the forty-three-year-old version finally appears to comfort her.