Magenta (going_not_gone) wrote in bookgrope,

what's important, as seen through time travel

It's interesting that Henry's time travel is only semi-random. Sometimes he winds up in a barn in Muncie, Indiana, or being chased by the cops in Chicago, but a lot of the time he finds himself with people who are important in his life: his mother, Clare, Kimy, himself. It's as if he can physically be present and be a participant in his own memories and his, for lack of a better term, emotional priorities. He revisits the scene of his mother's death because it's an emotional focal point in his life. Survival skills are important to him--the ability to acquire what he needs when he suddenly finds himself naked in some random place--so he goes back to teach himself those skills. He goes back to Kimy because after his mother's death, she became his surrogate mother, the person who made him feel safe and taught him to cook. And of course, he goes back to Clare over and over.

He can't change what happens--that's a major point in the book. He can't save his mother from death, or even himself from being embarrassed by his father. But he can be there, he can see himself and others in his life in a much more direct way than memory allows.

If you had chrono-impairment, where do you think you would find yourself, and with whom? What could you learn from it?
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
Can I chime in if I haven't read the book? Clearly, the non-entirely random chrono-impairment is a plot device to keep the book coherent, but if we put that aside, he's going back to important points in his life for good reason. (He can't change anything, but does his presence change anything? He can learn things going forward, clearly)

I think I'd find myself at various stress points - being born a preemie (can I do that?), leaving grad school, realizing I wasn't being treated well in a past relationship. I'd be hugely curious to see myself from a third-person perspective.
He can learn things, and he can give advice to his younger self, and to others. He gives one friend stock tips, because he already knows that in later years this friend has done well in the stock market...causality loop, anyone?

Henry does travel back to events before his birth, and to events after his death, so seeing yourself as a preemie would certainly be possible. You could even reassure the parents that their preemie baby would live to grow up and not have too many serious health issues. But you couldn't prevent yourself from getting involved in the bad relationship, for example.
So you can give yourself advice, but your younger self will never take it. :)

Yeah, birth would be interesting, because I lost a twin sister, and my mom simply can't talk about it.
I think it would be interesting, as an adult to go back and see the fights my parents used to have when they were still married and my dad would come home drunk. As a child I would be awakened by the yelling and I'd curl up into a ball in my bed. Maybe I would find myself a patron in the bar where my dad was drinking. I could visit my frightened young self and tell myself that it was ok, and that both parents would be ok.
Why he goes where he goes is an interesting question. I just read the Christmas scene where he time travels in the middle of the Mass. This is clearly a place where the stress he's under gives him a little push. Then Clare asks him why he went to the when he went to, and he replies, "Sort of a default mechanism." Like he can go to a more comfortable place when backing out of a stressfull one.
It does all bring up thoughts about free will and pre determiniation. If he can't change anything because it's already happened, does that mean that everything is pre-ordained? But it doesn't matter because we don't know the outcome?
Free will is one of the issues Henry struggles with throughout the book, and I don't see that he ever reaches a satisfactory answer. At one point he says to himself:

"I was just talking about that with a self from 1992...he thinks there is only free will when you are in time, in the present. He says tin the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there....But he said that you have to behave as though you have free will, as though you are responsible for what you do."

"Why? What does it matter?"

"Apparently if you don't, things are bad. Depressing."

There's a whole "if I knew then what I know now" factor that's one of the advantages of time travel...Henry can give his younger selves a lot of advice/reassurance.
But they don't listen, do they? :)
I think when Henry is younger, he's travelling to more random places more often (I'd have to check this to be sure) -- later, he keeps returning to the more important emotional landmarks. Although he does travel to his younger self when he's still a kid, obviously -- his mother's death is the seminal event of his life at that point.

I really enjoyed the way he traveled, or more precisely where he traveled to, most of the time -- the chrono-impairment does seem to to work the way revisiting memories (or giving the imagination freedom) would for the rest of us. So many of the times he sees Clare as a child, he's come from a place in the future where they're going through a hard time -- going back to the comfort of young Clare, who adores him, who has no expectations yet, has to be comforting.

I can only imagine that it would work the same way for me -- scenes from childhood when my mom was really ill, and maybe a few key moments in high school which I'd like to see from a different perspective. As a mom, though, I would be willing to bet I would end up at the birth of my kids, too, which would be bizarrely fascinating -- to observe that from the outside.
The time traveling aspect of the novel is fascinating, if only because it takes the view that the future can't be changed, whereas most stories dealing with time travel indicate that it can. In many ways, the philosophy behind the novel is a strange view of determinism. Things are meant to happen in a certain way and for a certain reason. Or maybe for no reason at all.

I'm not sure when or where I would find myself. I do wish I could visit my younger self when I lived in Illinois, where the worst of the bullying took place. It was certainly a seminal moment, and I think it would be a little like the older Henry teaching his younger self survival skills.
I do wish I could visit my younger self when I lived in Illinois, where the worst of the bullying took place
This is an excellent thought. If I could go back and tell my 7th grade self to simply laugh and walk away from April Byrd instead of being terrorized by her threats, I would probably have a different attitude about intimidation.
Or you could do what Henry did for Clare--go back as your older, stronger self and show April Byrd what it feels like to be victimized.
Do you remember her and that whole incident? I wonder how much I've adjusted in my memory. Also how I can remember certain scenes with such clarity, and have completely blocked out others.
Time travel as a form of memory as you mentioned somewhere is interesting. He does tend to go back more than forth and his knowledge of the future is mostly from visits from his future self.
I don't think I have the vindictiveness to act out like that. When I was reading that part I thought it was a bit extreme, but then again, April Byrd never did anything like what that guy did to Clare.
That part in the book was interesting. It made me uncomfortable, and yet I understood that sort of vindictiveness. I'm not sure I could ever go through with that kind of acting out against someone, though.
That scene illuminates the dark side of Henry's character. He's not always a nice guy; he's got a vindictive, violent streak. When Gomez describes how he beat up Nick, it's clear that he went well beyond what was neccessary. You can argue that for Henry, violence is just another survival skill, like running or housebreaking. But it also seems to me that Henry thinks that since the laws of time/space don't apply to him like they do to ordinary people, other laws shouldn't apply to him either.

Hmm....this is starting to feel like a new thread...

so he goes back to teach himself those skills
Does he go back because survival skills are important, or because he already knows that he went back?

If you had chrono-impairment, where do you think you would find yourself, and with whom? What could you learn from it?
I think I would go back to the day when my grandmother died, and get in her hospital room to say goodbye.