NEW YORK — Audrey Niffenegger is a first-time novelist with a penchant for taxidermy, Rilke and punk rock.
The 39-year-old self-proclaimed spinster — it’s a word that “amuses” her, she says, even though she has a “top-notch boyfriend” — who received a stuffed groundhog for her last birthday, manages to infuse “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (MacAdam/Cage), with all of these proclivities. Well, save the stuffed dead animals.
This story first appeared in the October 16, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The book, which is inching up the New York Times Bestseller List and was optioned by New Line Cinema and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s production company, is a unique tale of a rakish male librarian, Henry, whose faulty DNA lurches him through the past and the future in frenzied spates. He disappears unexpectedly, arrives in public places naked and has to lie, cheat and steal for clothes and then, of course, find the time to romance his long-suffering artist wife, Clare. It’s a story of time-crossed lovers, if you will.
Niffenegger, who teaches writing, letterpress printing and fine-edition book production at Columbia College Chicago, thought up the title first and fleshed out the story from there.
“I think a lot of people are attracted to time travel,” Niffenegger says in a phone interview between classes, regarding the surprising success of the book. “They really long to transcend this limitation of where we can’t go back and can’t go forward. We’re stuck, and it’s always fun to read about people who don’t have to abide by that.”
Although Henry is beset by problems due to his spontaneous time traveling, it makes for a brilliant plot device.
“I think it’s harder and harder to come up with reasons why a pair of lovers shouldn’t have everything their own way,” she muses. “In movies, people have to invent more far-fetched reasons that the lovers may be apart, and this seemed like a very good reason why people might have some trouble.”
Niffenegger also laces in references to Chicago, literature, pop culture and art. The author, who is also an artist, employed her visual instincts to write this book.
“Virtually all of my art work is a narrative in some ways, so it’s not a big leap to tell a story in words,” says Niffenegger. “I’ve been making what you could call graphic novels for years, except they’re not comic strips. They’re like a cross between silent films and Japanese prints.”
When book publishers asked her who she thought the audience was, she said “librarians,” but the readership has been much wider. Still, Niffenegger feels like “it’s all happening somewhere else.”
“Here I am in Chicago and all the people I play ‘book’ with are on the coasts, so I have a lot of fun phone calls, but my daily life is really the same.” Except now she spends her downtime busily reading reader reviews on Amazon.com.