**Added alert commenter question here.

The Barren Bitches Book Tour is in some ways like a high school English assignment, so I'm using the same time-honoured technique I used back then. That's right - up past bedtime on the night before it's due, looking at the questions for the first time ever. And so many thoughtful questions have been provoked by Niffenegger's compelling tale, I hardly know where to start. Nevertheless, I will.

**Spoiler Warning - parts one and two contain spoilers in the question or answer - if you want you can skip to part three**

Henry's ability to time travel is both a blessing and a curse. What do you think Niffenegger was trying to say about human anomalies in general and how can Henry's ability to time travel relate to medical conditions such as deafness or infertility?

As a bleeding-heart, citified liberal, I prefer to think of human anomalies in terms of compassion and the triumph of human civilisation over the nasty, short, brutishness of nature. But there's a more utilitarian argument for pulling together and helping those whose problems don't, from society's viewpoint, seem worth solving. The idea crops up in several places - Cube, that high school biology lesson where you discussed sickle cell anaemia, and most recently "Survival of the Sickest" by Dr Sharon Moalem - a pop science look at the hidden benefits of human imperfection, and something I purchased today, far too late to be of benefit in answering this question.

During the story, Henry's condition saves his life, earns him a living, and causes his disability, infertility and death. Having found the answer to his infertility, it seems the only thing he lacked to swing the benefits firmly in his favour was control, and his daughter managed to achieve that in much greater degree. The message seems clear - don't be too hasty to condemn that which deviates from the ideal. Persist, overcome obstacles, hang on to the silver lining.

Due to his ability to time travel and jumps into the future, Henry knows that he is going to die. Yet in the beginning, he works hard to try to create a baby with his wife. This situation obviously benefits Henry in that he gets to parent Alba for a bit before he dies. This situation also benefits Clare since she wants to be a mother. Yet Alba grows up without her father yet with his extraordinary abilities - abilities that were a difficult adjustment for Henry growing up. Do you think he acted in the best interests of his child when he helped create her knowing that he would not be around to help her understand her ability to time travel? Do you think it is truly possible to take the feelings of a child in mind prior to creation as well as fulfill your own need to parent? If you had been in Henry's shoes, would you have created this child knowing she would be able to time travel and you would not be there to help her understand this anomaly?

Firstly, I think the question misrepresents the situation somewhat (whoever wrote it can beat me up in the comments!). Henry knows he has never been visited by a version of himself older than forty-three, but he also spends a great deal of the book seeking a cure for his "chrono-impairment", so although he and Clare are worried, there is no proof of his impending death until after the conception of their daughter (and in a certain sense, her birth - his daughter is the one who breaks the news to him). Forty-three could have been the age at which his doctor eventually gave him the magic solution. Couple this with his unusual ability to parent Alba after he dies, as well as before, the other people in Alba's life who understand the condition (her mother and doctor), and Henry's own history of getting by without these advantages, and the action of creating a child in his situation doesn't seem too irresponsible at all.

The fact is, in some sense, I am in Henry's position. I have a family history of breast cancer, and there is a chance I may pass a predisposition on to my children, and then die without first helping them come to terms with it. There was a point at which I wondered if it was responsible to bring a child into this world under the circumstances. But it's impossible to predict what obstacles we'll face and how things will turn out. I could use my genes, and everything could end up just fine, or I could opt not to use my genes, and in doing so create or uncover a whole new set of problems, perhaps worse than before.

Life is not about avoiding whatever risks you can see. Life is about managing risks. It's walking that fine line between responsibility and acceptance of fate. It's hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It's realising we need to work as a community to give and take and share the burdens. I feel Henry, and I, made reasonable choices.

I love the references to music in this book. They are a convenient way for the author to clearly define the era the narrative is taking place in, but for those of us who can't time-travel, music and the times in which we listened to it play a powerful role in constructing memory. Which is to say, that it is almost impossible for me to think about our experience of infertility without thinking of "The Waters of March" as performed by Susanne McCorkle. Mel's written about this in the past. I also think about going with Mel to see Bruce Springsteen concert right when we started TTC and just being so certain that there was a child in-utero at the concert with us. There wasn't. Or not one that became a viable embryo. For that reason, I hardly ever listen to The Rising, which is the album Bruce was touring behind (The Seeger Sessions however is awesome and on regular rotation). That said, what are the songs you associate with your experience -- even if they have nothing to do with IF?

Less than a week ago I was in a taxi coming home from the appointment in which SOB confirmed our latest pregnancy was over. As we pulled into the traffic, a song came on the radio: "One Fine Day" by The Chiffons. You know how it goes. I've got a feeling if I ever want to feel again like I did that moment, all I'll have to do is get that playing on the stereo.

Finally, a question for the alert commenter. The book is about a couple and the life they build together despite difficulties including infertility. It's told from the viewpoints of both Henry and Clare. Yet it's called "The Time Traveler's Wife". Do you feel that reflects on the way infertility is handled within society? What would the story of your relationship/infertility be called?

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Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein.


14 Comments

My Reality said...

I haven't read this book, nor had I really planned to. After reading your review, I think I might just go and get a copy.

You are 100% right Bea, life is about managing risks and walking that fine line.

Samantha said...

I agree that life is about taking risks, plus I think Henry recognized how his life was unique because of his time traveling abilities and he had the potential to share this ability with his child. It was a risk, in the sense that it could end up being a terrible burden, but also a gift to Alba. Her life could be that much more risky and rewarding.

Sunny said...

Oh music can take you far back into time. It can also tear your heart out over and over again.

The Wreckers will always remind me of this year. The year that didn't go as planned.

Baby Blues said...

Love how you answered the questions. I enjoyed the book but pulled out from the tour because I wasn't sure I would have time to answer and post it. Maybe I'll join in the next tour.

I agree. Life is all about taking risks! We just have to deal with what we have, roll with the punches and make the most of our lives.

Music makes us time travel. There are songs that bring me back to past experiences and memories. Old songs definitely make me reminisce.

Piccinigirl said...

Oh Bea, I so agree with everything you wrote, about Life being a risk and having to live within those lines. It's the hardest part of this journey for me.
You answered all of this beautifully.

The Town Criers said...

The alert commenter? I have a terrible feeling that this was one of those times where I missed something. But if you have another TTW question, throw it out, dear Bea.

I love your answer to the second question especially this: There was a point at which I wondered if it was responsible to bring a child into this world under the circumstances. But it's impossible to predict what obstacles we'll face and how things will turn out. I could use my genes, and everything could end up just fine, or I could opt not to use my genes, and in doing so create or uncover a whole new set of problems, perhaps worse than before.

I don't know if we can ever make choices that are "responsible" in that regard because (1) no child asks to be born so we have no idea if they wished to be alive prior to birth and (2) we all have "imperfect" genes that we pass along. In regards to (1), I sometimes question when people are complaining about how their parents had them regardless of X, X, and X (for instance, if Alba was to complain about time travel), but what is the alternative? To not be alive at all? I'm never sure how to respond to those arguments. I understand the speaker's point and I feel for them that they were put into a situation, but who in this world gets to decide whether or not they want to be born or which type of situation they wish to be born into or if they want their parent's stinkin' time traveling genes? As for (2) well...I just want to apologize in advance for the high cholesterol.

Great thoughts.

Pamela Jeanne said...

In real life, well in my case, the story of infertility is as much my husband's story as mine. He's less vocal about it, but his loss is as deep as mine. I've seen it in his eyes, witnessed it in his actions and felt it in my soul. What would our story be called...well it's the story I named my novel after, "A Hole in the Heart."

The Town Criers said...

Oh...that is a freakin' great question. And something I didn't really notice at all. But definitely--with IF, it's the couple's problem, but it seems to be (1) carried forward by the woman in a hetero relationship and (2) only the woman is perceived to have emotions about it.

That's why I asked how Adam is doing because I'm sure he's crushed too. I liked how Josh wrote about how men view IF and pg loss in his post. I think I was always focused on the baby and he was focused on me. And what we were doing wasn't real until he could feel the babies kicking. Therefore, any babies lost early in the pregnancy were abstract to him. They weren't abstract to me. At the same time, I know that even though his focus was on me, he was equally crushed each cycle. He wrote this heartbreaking note to our future child inside my journal one night. Simply begging the baby to come. And I knew from that that while he put up a good front, he hurt a lot too.

I think women are also more willing to discuss their feelings, therefore, they receive more comfort.

Great question. What are other peoples' take on it?

littleangelkisses said...

OH WOW, your question is a great one. I have to say that it IS a reflection of how society views IF. What an interesting thought. I'd have to think about what our struggle would be called. WOW

Sunny said...

My husband is very hurt by our infertility but he deals with it in such a different way. He doesn't let it consume it like I become consumed. But how can he be consumed when I am the one feeling it all and waiting and all that jazz. He also doesn't understand why I want to hide from people sometimes. Or I say that if one more person in this group gets pregnant I will have to bow out. He thinks that is awful.

Parallel roads would be us. (sorry my spelling sucks) There are times we touch and feel the same but other times we just walk side by side feeling different things. Almost experiencing our own different journey.

Great question.

Bea said...

I love "Parallel Roads". I think that says a lot about the experience of many couples at one point or another.

Bea

NCD said...

Q2 almost seems to ask, 'if you are infertile, should you attempt to have children?' There are so many things you can pass on to your children, both good and bad.

Hopefully you can help your kid(s) prepare for the bad and enjoy the good like Henry does.

millie said...

I loved this book when I read it a couple of years ago. My husband read it first and it really got to him. What really stuck out to me was how Henry knew that while infertility was tough they would get to the other side. How nice it would be to have that reassurance.

Jessica said...

That's a very good song too. It's always interesting to see what songs others come up with on that question. I also agree with your answer to number two. I think that was basically what I was trying to say too.

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