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Bookends: Father Time Finds the Meaning of Time At Last June 4, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Father Time Finds the Meaning of Time At Last

Time keeper

By Dan Davidson

January 30, 2013

The Time Keeper

By Mitch Albom

Hyperion

224 pages

$27.99

Somewhere way back in the mists of time …

No, I can’t start this review that way. See, this one begins so far back that the very idea of time hasn’t been invented yet, and it’s partly about the man who was bold enough, or obsessed enough, to think of it.

His name is Dor, and he’s one of the three central characters in this story. He is thousands of years old – but he is still young. He has lived through the ages, but the ages have passed him by.

As a boy he became fascinated with counting, with sequences of events and how they seemed to repeat. As time, which as yet had no name, passed, he developed ways of keeping track of the intervals between their repetitions. He mapped the passage of day and night, became aware of seasons, invented the sundial and the water clock.

He married his childhood sweetheart and ran afoul of his boyhood chum, Nim, who became a powerful ruler and determined that he would build a tower into the heavens so he could conquer them as well. You know the name: Babel.

When Nim’s Alli died he broke the rules and ascended the tower, which collapsed, shredding language into bits as it fell, but Dor was plucked up by a strange being and placed incommunicado in a cave, until the day when he could understand the real meaning of time. Ironically, he became Father Time, an iconic image that echoes in art and legend down through the ages.

Fast forward millennia to now, to the lives of a troubled teenager, Sarah Lemon, and frustrated old man, Victor Delmonte.

Sarah is one of those people who don’t fit in; an awkwardly formed geek who yearns for acceptance and all the emotional trappings the world says she ought to have. She is misunderstood and rejected by her peers – well, no, really she has no peers, but wants them dreadfully. We follow her through a series of events that leave her wanting to die. Shunned by a boy she has a crush on, ridiculed on social media, time is the one thing she wants no more of.

Victor is a self-made man who has achieved worldly wealth and fame. He has a good wife and everything he could possibly want – but he wants more. He has always wanted more. As he approaches he mid-eighties, he begins planning to cheat death. Now he wants more time.

In his cave, Dor, sometimes near madness, has often been able to hear the voices of people talking about time. He hears Sarah asking for hers to end and Victor asking for more. He is visited by the being who had imprisoned him, given a mystic hourglass, which allows him to control the flow of time for himself, and sent into the world after 6,000 years of isolation.

We follow him as he learns about the world. He is technically adept. When he needs to know about something he stops the flow of time until he has learned what he needs and then continues. He has stamina and endurance. He swims the Atlantic Ocean to get to New York, drawn there by a pull he doesn’t really understand. In the course of time, he takes a job in a clock shop to learn more about people, and it is there he meets both Victor and Sarah, on different errands in pursuit of goals that will bring each of them to a bad end.

You can imagine how this needs to work out. The narrative, with its 81 little chapters, shuffles us back and forth through the lives of its main characters, with some tiny input from other people: Sarah’s mother, Victor’s wife. Dor’s task is to provide the two mortals with a sort of George Bailey experience. It’s not so much that theirs are wonderful lives, but it is the case that they have more meaning than they have understood them to have, because they have been focussing on the wrong perspectives.

And that is true for Dor as well, which is something he comes to understand while he is helping them, a task he undertakes without any thought of personal reward.

A story like this one has a great tendency to become mawkish and preachy. Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, and other bestsellers, certainly has a message about life and focus here, but he’s not really beating you over the head with it. The narrative was clever and the concept interesting.

-30-

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