A dazzling and alluring novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate... read more
Using alternating first-person perspectives, the novel tells the stories of Henry DeTamble (born 1963), a librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and his wife, Clare Abshire (born 1971), an artist who makes paper sculptures. Henry has a rare genetic disorder, which comes to be known as... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Using alternating first-person perspectives, the novel tells the stories of Henry DeTamble (born 1963), a librarian at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and his wife, Clare Abshire (born 1971), an artist who makes paper sculptures. Henry has a rare genetic disorder, which comes to be known as Chrono-Displacement, that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. When 20-year-old Clare meets 28-year-old Henry at the Newberry Library in 1991 at the opening of the novel, he has never seen her before, although she has known him most of her life.
Henry begins time traveling at the age of five, jumping forward and backward relative to his own timeline. He is unable to control his travels: when he leaves, where he goes, or how long his trip will last. His destinations are tied to his subconscious—he most often travels to places and times related to his own history. Certain stimuli such as stress can trigger Henry's time traveling; he often runs to keep calm and remain in the present. He also searches out pharmaceuticals in the future that may be able to control his time traveling, and seeks the advice of a geneticist, Dr. Kendrick. Henry cannot take anything with him into the future or the past; he always arrives naked and struggles to find clothing, shelter, and food. He amasses a number of survival skills including pickpocketing, lock-picking, and fighting skills—many of these he learns from older versions of himself.
Once their timelines converge "naturally" at the library—their first meeting, in his chronology—Henry starts to travel to Clare's childhood and adolescence in South Haven, Michigan, beginning in 1977 when she is six years old. On one of his early visits (from her perspective), Henry gives her a list of the dates he will appear and she writes them in a diary so she will remember to provide him with clothes and food when he arrives. During another visit, he inadvertently reveals that they will be married in the future. Over time, they develop a close relationship. At one point, Henry helps Clare frighten and humiliate a boy who abused her. Clare is last visited in her youth by Henry in 1989, on her eighteenth birthday, during which they make love for the first time. They are then separated for two years until their meeting at the library.
Clare and Henry marry, but Clare has trouble bringing a pregnancy to term because of the genetic anomaly Henry is presumably passing on to the fetus. After six miscarriages, Henry wishes to save Clare further pain and has a vasectomy. However a version of Henry from the past visits Clare one night and impregnates her; she subsequently gives birth to a daughter, Alba. Alba is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement, but, unlike Henry, she has some control over her destinations when she time travels. Before she is born, Henry travels to the future and meets his ten-year-old daughter on a school field trip and learns that he died when she was five years old.
When he is 43, during what is to be his last year of life, Henry time travels to a Chicago parking garage on a frigid winter night where he is unable to find shelter. As a result of the hypothermia and frostbite he experiences, his feet are amputated when he returns to the present. Henry and Clare both know that without the ability to escape when he time travels, Henry will certainly die within his next few jumps. On New Year's Eve 2006 Henry time travels into the middle of the Michigan woods in 1984 and is accidentally shot by Clare's brother, a scene foreshadowed earlier in the novel. Henry returns to the present and dies in Clare's arms.
Clare is devastated by Henry's passing. She later finds a letter from Henry which asks her to " please stop waiting" for him, but which describes a moment in her future when she will see him. The last scene in the book takes place when Clare is 82 and Henry is 43. She is waiting for Henry, as she has done her whole life, and when he arrives, he clasps her in his arms.
“... And we laugh and laugh, and nothing can ever be sad, no one can ever be lost, or dead, or far away: right now we are here, and nothing can mar our perfection, or steal the joy of this perfect moment.”
“It’s dark now and I am very tired. I love you, always. Time is nothing.”Henry DeTamble
“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.”
“I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going.”Henry DeTamble
“I wish for a moment that time would lift me out of this day, and into some more benign one. But then I feel guilty for wanting to avoid the sadness; dead people need us to remember them, even if it eats us, even if all we can do is say "I'm sorry" until it is as meaningless as air.”Henry DeTamble
“Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why has he gone where I cannot follow?”Clare Abshire
“Why is love intensified by absence?”Clare Abshire
“Don't you think it's better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”Clare Abshire
“I wanted someone to love who would stay: stay and be there, always.”
“It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays.”Clare Abshire
“I have a sort of Christmas-morning sense of the library as a big box full of beautiful books.”Clare Abshire
“"Clock time is our bank manager, tax collector, police inspector;this inner time is our wife."(at the beginning of the book)”- J.B. Priestley, Man and Time
“Chaos is more freedom; in fact, total freedom. But no meaning. I want to be free to act, and I also want my actions to mean something.”
““Clare, I want to tell you, again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust. Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you.””Henry DeTamble
“When you live with a woman you learn something every day.”Henry
“The compelling thing about making art-- or making anything, I suppose is the moment when the vaporous, insubstantial idea becomes a solid there, a thing, a substance in a world of substance.”Clare
“It comes out so quietly I have to ask her to repeat: 'It's just that I thought maybe you were married to me.”
“Sometimes I am glad when Henry's gone, but I'm always glad when he comes back.”Clare Abshire DeTamble
“Do you ever wish you could stop time? I wouldn't mind staying here forever.”Clare Abshire DeTamble
“"Kiss me," Clare says, and I turn to her, white face and dark lips floating in the dark, and I submerge, I fly, I am released: being wells up in my heart.”Henry DeTamble
“"Daddy's crying," Alba whispers to Clare."That's because he has to eat my cooking," Clare tells her, and winks at me, and I have to laugh.”Henry DeTamble
BOOK 1: Man Out of Time
First date, one
A First Time For Everything
First date, two
Lessons in Survival
After the End
Christmas Eve, One (Always crashing in the same car)
Christmas Eve, Two
Eat or be Eaten
Christmas Eve, Three
Home is Anywhere you hang your Head
Better Living Through Chemistry
Get Me to The Church On Time
BOOK 2: A Drop of Blood in a Bowl of Milk
Library Science Fiction
A Very Small Shoe
New Year's Eve, One
Alba, An Introduction
The Episode of the Monroe Street Parking Garage
An Unpleasant Scene
The Episode of the Monroe Street Parking Garage
What Goes Around Comes Around
Hours, If Not Days
New Year's Eve, Two
BOOK 3: A Treatise On Longing
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