Mitch Albom's latest work of fiction opens with an evocative scene. An ancient man, solitary in a cave, listens to the voices of people from Earth begging endlessly for one thing: more time.
The precise identity of this man isn't known for some time; instead, the novel introduces readers to two of the people whose voices the man hears. One is teenager Sarah Lemon. She longs for more time to prepare for her first date, with a handsome and seemingly unattainable boy who volunteers at the same homeless shelter with her on the weekends. Ethan is flirtatious but can be aloof, and Sarah can't quite believe that he's interested in her --- awkward Sarah Lemon, with her divorced parents, overachieving grades, and few extra pounds. She wants the night to be perfect, though, and for that she needs more time. But what if Ethan has something else in mind for their time together?
"THE TIME KEEPER is a fable of sorts; although readers likely won't feel preached at, they also should come prepared for a story that weaves together religion, philosophy and common sense in a way that results in a very defined message or even moral. The moral, which comes to all three characters in different ways, is certainly one that busy modern readers will be able to get behind."
Not as much time, though, as Victor Delamonte desires. Victor, a hugely successful and wildly wealthy hedge fund manager, is used to getting everything he wants. So when he discovers that he's dying of cancer, he doesn’t believe that he can't just buy his way into immortality. Soon, though, he discovers cryonics and hatches an elaborate plan to extend his life decades or centuries into the future. As he grasps for a miracle, he finds himself growing farther and farther away from his once-beloved wife. Isn't his remaining time with her worth just as much as some nebulous quest for eternal life?
And what about that mysterious, ancient man, forced to listen to the stories of Sarah, Victor, and millions of others just like them? It turns out that he's the one who first sparked humans' peculiar fixation with time. Dor, who lived near the time of the building of the Tower of Babel, was the first man to conceptualize the passing --- and the measurement --- of time. He invented the first clock, and from then on, Albom's book suggests, humans never stopped fretting about time passing too slowly or, more often, too quickly. Although Dor gained a sort of cursed immortality, it was at the price of everything he held most dear. Now he mourns his losses, sitting in that cave, alone but for the voices that surround him, which are their own form of punishment: "to hear every plea from every soul who desired more of the thing he had first identified, the thing that moved man further from the simple light of existence and deeper into the darkness of his own obsessions."
The ways in which these three main characters become connected to one another are largely metaphysical, as is the ultimate scope of Albom's project. Their very different stories, although varying in their thematic and emotional heft, nevertheless all build suspensefully thanks to his technique of interspersing them, revealing each one by bits and pieces.
THE TIME KEEPER is a fable of sorts; although readers likely won't feel preached at, they also should come prepared for a story that weaves together religion, philosophy and common sense in a way that results in a very defined message or even moral. The moral, which comes to all three characters in different ways, is certainly one that busy modern readers will be able to get behind. He also adopts a simplified, pared-down prose style to tell his story, making it read --- despite its contemporary setting and relevance --- even more like classic fables that readers may remember from childhood.
Albom has gained a well-deserved reputation for writing about matters of faith, mortality and the afterlife in ways that resonate with readers. In THE TIME KEEPER, he does the same thing in a story that also reminds people how to try to live each day.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 6, 2012
The Time Keeper