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What's All This Then?

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The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

Field-Tested by Jon Parker

in Lumsden Beach, Saskatchewan

Novelty thrives in the city. Breaking news, now-playing movies, limited-time offers, and unchecked messages suck you into their transient presence. Home shows and show homes stir your gutting instinct; your urges to renovate and redecorate are kept at bay by credit limits and shameful laziness.

So you drive the novelty away with eight hours of highway. At your family cottage (a real cottage, with thin walls and sagging floors and almost two-season comfort), the past has made itself comfortable. Your grandparents found this place. They made a fireplace mantle from a creosote-blackened railroad tie. They lined the walls with souvenirs: an embroidered bullfighter, a lithographed Eiffel tower, a porcelain EPCOT Center. They left books: Work of Art by Sinclair Lewis, The Polite Pirate by Capstan.


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Your father and his siblings came next. On the walls they left paint-by-number ballerinas, a craft-kit mosaic pixie, a wooden badminton racket. One artwork features plastic model parts, spools, pasta wheels, buttons, and cereal box prizes spray-painted onto plywood, with a typewriter-set label reading “Collage in Blue — $750”. A summer satire on modernism, a middle finger to the future. On the shelves they left The Fantastic Four and Cherry Ames.

Here laziness isn't shameful; it's vaunted. You don't renovate; you agglomerate. You bring the distractive media of your day — books, cassettes, DVDs — and leave them behind. The cottage is backwards-compatible, a now system with a then emulator.

I brought The Time Traveler's Wife. Clare is married to Henry, who has a chronological impairment: he is intermittently and involuntarily thrown backwards and forwards in time. His displacements stay roughly within the geography of his actual life, leading to frequent encounters with people he has yet to meet but who know him and visitations of pivotal moments in his past. But the narrative unfolds unpredictably. Entries of future days appear as threatening or happy visions; entries from past days slowly solve the mysteries of the present.

As I read the novel in the cottage or at the lakeside beach, my wife and I are often interrupted. It's her family's cottage, and her old friends drop by with spouses and children and stories. I'm introduced, but soon they're catching up on distant relatives and estranged friends. They're filling in the blanks between the years, solving the mysteries between summers. I try to listen, but soon I'm lost in names and times.

The Time Traveler's Wife is a romance, mystery, and thriller in one. And though it sounds like a fun summer read, it raises some heavy questions, like: how would you live if you knew what was to come?

I thought I'd be like this cottage. This place has its priorities straight. I'd be content with imperfection. I'd welcome friends and family and whoever crossed the threshold. I'd accept my dusty past and my messy present, and face the future as it appeared — bemused by novelty, not obsessed by it.

I left the book, but I took that thought home with me.

Jon Parker is the Director of Brand Communications at Veer. He has held copy, editorial, and brand positions at Adobe Systems, EyeWire, and Getty Images. At Veer, his focus is on brand evangelism and community initiatives. He is also a serious type geek. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Rory.

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