Monday, August 17, 2009

The Time-Traveler's Wife

Given its immense book sales, a movie of "The Time Traveler's Wife" was inevitable, despite its lack of climax, conflict, or drama. The book is actually a pretty good time, despite being chock-full of moments where characters must accommodate the demands of the plot by behaving like completely different, mostly brain-dead people, most prominently in the heroine's out-of-nowhere whining about wanting to be pregnant despite the high likelihood of "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex"-style complications. Though I suppose one could defend this sudden, senseless, self-destructive shift in attitude as quite realistic.

For those who don't know the plot: The book's about a guy who, like Billy Pilgrim, is permanently unstuck in time. Every couple of days, he's suddenly shot into the past for a few hours, but his journeys seem to center around a particular woman. He first appears to her when she's a little girl and he's a man in his thirties, which is about the age he remains for all the visits to her in childhood, as well as when he appears during her horny teenage years (fear not, he remains entirely gentlemanly). When she's in her mid-20s, he tells her that they're going to meet soon---that is, she's going to meet him in his actual linear life, and he won't know her yet. When they do meet, he's actually a few years younger than she is, and much more awkward than the older man she's known up until now. But love blooms, and they have some beautiful years together.

It's all very sweet, and not too badly written. But what really sells the book is its remorsely perfect wish-fulfillment fantasy. Not just the predestined love aspect, though that's certainly no small thing; no, it's the traveler who's a projection of a man too perfect to exist outside of fiction(which makes casting Eric Bana, who's played a lot of too-good-to-be-true men, appropriate, though how I'd love to see him in a remake of "Suspicion"). For the (largely female) readership, the time traveler is both the suave older man who won't fuck you no matter how hard you beg, and he's also the stumbling younger guy you can slyly seduce, and he's the sweet, bumbling hubby who you can mold into the aforementioned suave older man (and he'll happily go along with it, because you're trying to make him into the man he already is/was/will be). The fact that the heroine's actual father is barely-glimpsed and seemingly unlikable only further underscores the time traveler's role as simultaneous daddy and boytoy. And his chronological unreliability gives the story the vital "sisters must do it for themselves" aspect that any successful piece of female-oriented pop fiction needs.

Of course, such wish fulfillment is a vital part of all popular fiction---witness detective novels' endless procession of men who are tough, independent, hard-living, and seemingly irresistible to hot babes who conveniently disappear. But it's sort of rare to see a piece of popular women's fiction so eager to dive into genre devices (and sci-fi devices at that) in the interest of crafting a shamelessly perfect fantasy scenario. It has some of the glassy-eyed intensity of very specific fetish porn, the sense that you're reading something carefully crafted to fit perfectly in the keyhole in someone's brain.

No comments:

Post a Comment