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Sunday, November 19

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This month's selection for the Gapers Block Book Club is Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Gapers Block Slowdown Editor Veronica Bond gives us this taste of what we'll read.

Imagine a love story that has no bounds. No amount of time can keep apart two people destined to be together. They live their lives together, for each other, always wanting to be where the other is. Sounds like basis for the latest romantic drama, right? The kinds girls drag their boyfriends to when they'd rather be bow hunting. Sounds like something even I wouldn't want to see, let alone read. Yet, when it's broken down to its most base elements, that's what The Time Traveler's Wife is: a timeless love story. And I couldn't put it down.

Although Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire don't officially meet until she is twenty and he is twenty-eight, Clare's known Henry for most of her life and Henry will have known her for the remainder of his. Henry is stricken with a chronological-impairment, a genetic abnormality that leaves him with the ability to jump through any point in his timeline. The rules on this are few, as Henry has no control over when he will appear, but he can only go where he has already gone, or will go in the future, and he can do nothing to alter the course of events. Everything that will happen already has and Henry, regardless of his age, will always have been there. Since the age of six Clare has been receiving visits from Henry and the two are destined to spend their days together.

Henry and Clare's journey through their chronologically linked lives makes up the bulk of the novel, but there is a secondary character whose presence is almost as great as the human protagonists. This, of course, is the city of Chicago itself, in which the story unfolds. At one point Henry finds himself running past the Army Surplus store and Ann Sathers on Belmont, at another he explores the abandoned Field Museum at night, and at another he is at a concert at the Aragon Ballroom. They're significant landmarks for anyone who's spent a decent amount of time in the city, but Audrey Niffenegger, who was born and raised in Evanston and teaches at Columbia College, is so adept at developing and incorporating the city as its own entity that those unfamiliar with such specifics won't feel themselves left out of the loop. Instead, they are introduced to a city that's just as engaging as the characters themselves.

"A lot," Niffenegger said in an interview for Bookslut when I asked her how much she intended to use the city as a character, "because I sort of started thinking, well, it's really important to give this a grounding in reality. It should be demonstrable to anyone who reads this that this is a real place and these are real people. The premise of the book is so fantastical that it just needed a counterbalance of documentary style places. And I thought it would be fun. I think Chicago's got its own vibe but it's a very practical, accessible kind of place. It's not quite the same thing as vampires in New Orleans or ghosts in Paris. It's kind of an unaccepted place for anything really strange to happen."

But, in Niffenegger's hands, this world is entirely believable. There are few books that can take an idea so out of the ordinary and make it seem like a part of everyday life. There are few books that can combine elements of wholly separate genres and make them mesh so readily. You could call The Time Traveler's Wife a sci-fi love story and that wouldn't be entirely wrong, but I'd refrain from labelling it as anything other than well-written fiction. It's difficult to not think about Henry and Clare even after the pages are closed when the two will next meet, where they will meet, and how it will affect the course of their lives. It's satisfying to find yourself so involved with the characters, but even moreso when you realize that the story is an ode to a city you love. Whether or not you're enamoured with the romance, that's something close to all of our hearts.

~*~

Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. The next meeting will be on Monday, June 13, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm. Join the book club email list for updates and important alerts about future meetings.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a real, live Chicago librarian. If you have topic ideas or questions you would like answered, send your suggestions to and it may be featured in a future column.

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