I was very much intrigued when I heard about Mitch Albom’s new book, The Time Keeper. Like his other books, it’s a slim volume with a fable-like quality, as much philosophy as fiction, presenting characters who are learning something about their lives.
The Time Keeper is the intertwined story of Dor, Victor and Sarah. Dor lived long, long ago, and was the first person to ever think of measuring the passing of days–the first one to grasp the concept of time. He becomes Father Time, sitting for millenium in a cave, listening to the voices of all the people oppressed by the desire for more or less time, while remembering his own beloved, lost wife. In the present day, Victor is consumed by business, and it’s made him the 14th richest man in the world. That still can’t buy him a cure for his cancer and kidney failure. He decides to seize another lifetime and, without telling his wife, makes plans to be cryogenically frozen. Sarah is an unpopular teenager who thinks she’s finally met the boy of her dreams–only to be devastated when things turn out badly.
Victor wants more time and Sarah wants to throw her time away. Father Time enters into the modern world to help them both, and to change his own fate in the process.
In the end, I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s an easy, fast read (not that I’m in a hurry or anything…) that’s deceptively simple. There are some wonderful philosophical notes, most especially about the hazard of counting time instead of experiencing it. The irony did occur to me when I settled down to start reading this, first moving my clock so I could be aware of the time while I read! I like a lot of what Dor learns, about the dangers of being consumed by counting time and never stopping to just feel life. There’s a certain element of It’s a Wonderful Life to the story for all three characters, of never seeing the people and the good things in your own life.
On the other hand, my practical side points out that we do actually need to count time and have clocks–that it does actually make sense to read for half an hour so that I can go to bed and get enough sleep and not be tired in the morning because I have to get up for something that starts at a certain time… I’m reminded of a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Little is to be expected of that day…to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor.” In other words, it’s much better to wake up on our own than with an alarm clock. While he’s not exactly wrong, I also must say it’s easy for Thoreau to say that when he lived out at Walden Pond and had no job to get to. And I would bet that if he wanted a hot meal from Mrs. Emerson, she expected him to come to dinner on time!
Still, on the whole, I think Albom has some good points in here about time, and I do like how Dor’s story develops. I’m more mixed about Sarah’s and Victor’s stories. They both come to valuable revelations about their lives and their relationships, and there’s a heartwarming ending and a perfectly good message about valuing people. But I’m not sure either of them really learned that much about time. Victor perhaps, as he was focusing his time on the wrong things. Sarah’s problems only very distantly relate to time at all. Which leaves me saying that it was a very nice story that was not quite what it was presented as.
Conclusion: this is a lovely modern fable, well-written and engaging. But only one out of three plotlines really focuses on the philosophy of time. If what you really want is complex insight about dealing with a far too busy world, look elsewhere. But if you enjoy Albom’s writing and if a slightly Frank Capra-like modern fable appeals to you, it’s a good read.
And evidently the 146 people behind me in line at the library hold list feel the idea appeals to them! As you may imagine, I returned this one very quickly…
Author’s Site: http://mitchalbom.com/