Every American girl wishes she could take the next good looking guy on the street and turn him into the perfect, caring, wise husband of her dreams. And I suppose it's possible that some man could see in a little girl the makings of the woman he falls in love with and marries. Actually, that's always going to be pretty creepy. And yet in this intensely realistic tale of promise and patience, of foresight and trust, of a fantastical, yet practical love that doesn't seem to have a beginning or an end, it just works. Audrey Niffenegger creates the perfect relationship in her debut novel The Time Traveler's Wife, not because they live without problems, but because they have a picture of how it all ends up, and in the end, they love each other and everything just feels alright.
Causality is rendered obsolete, perhaps because its application would debunk the notion of "love" in the story, as the reader tries to piece together this "chronologically challenged" narrative. We're given no explanation for Henry's time travels that break all natural laws. Often triggered by stress, he disappears and appears - naked, because he can't manage to take anything else with him - in unpredictable places and times for an unknown duration. For another unknown reason, Henry is able to visit his future wife, Clare, many times during her childhood. This is where the story get tricky: Clare meets Henry as a child, falls in love, finds him in her present when she becomes older, and becomes his wife. Henry knows that Clare is his wife when he meets the smaller version of her, but she seeks him out and loves him later on because of her initial experiences with his older self. Henry's influence on Clare as a young person greatly influences who she later becomes; while Clare's image of Henry as an older man gives her hope and guidance with the younger, more volatile version of her husband. They both change the person they see in front of them into the image of the person they have in their minds (and have experienced in some form) and this is precisely the concept that I find difficult to label "romantic" and simply digest.
Clare, especially, is put in an incredibly challenging situation. Her life is built around her own patient waiting - for Henry to visit her as a child, for Henry to grow up into the man she knows him to be from her childhood visit, and finally for him to come back from his various inexplicable and incalculable trips. She endures all this through the love she develops for this man who teaches her about life and literature, while even taking great lengths to defend her honor. Clare suffers through the hardships of every relationship because she loves the untapped potential in the man she's dating to become the man she marries. In real life, people with these misconceived notions are scoffed at and talked about with disgust or elitist sympathy during sadistic dining rituals.
Henry and Clare's lives are intertwined in a way that evokes a shudder like one of revulsion from jaded cynics walking in on a conversation about soul mates. It's almost too easy, that this couple survives years of pain and fear, intermingled with passion and acceptance; because, they know how the story ends. Real life doesn't give us the happy ending so that we can pull through with the knowledge that any unhappiness is temporal. Every day, we re-evaluate and choose to love the people we love, to commit to the people we relationship with, to see what they can be but still care for who they are. And it's the choice to share that uncertainty, not knowing where we're going or who we're becoming, that sweeps me off my feet.