Review of The Time Keeper, a novel by Mitch Albom

This little book asks a big question: why does God limit our days?

It does so very entertainingly, as a novel, with three main characters, all human: Dor, a Prometheus-like character, whose curiosity leads him to discover time and share his discovery with the rest of humanity; Sarah Lemon, a love-struck teenager who wants time to speed up; and Victor Delamonte, a very rich but terminal old man, who wants time to slow down.  Each of them desires to control the uncontrollable, time.

I’ve got to read this book right away. Philip Berrigan once said something like, ‘If you expect the problem solved in your lifetime, the problem’s not big enough.’ Controlling time is a big problem; there’s not a moment to lose. We measure eons in millions and billions of years, but I might live another thirty or forty. Maybe. Or I might die tonight. Who knows? It’s a paradox: how much time is left and who really decides. Yet, not to sound trite, whether I have years or just today, every moment is precious….

At the beginning of measuring time, Alli, Dor’s wife, expresses the golden rule: ‘Show them [strangers] the mercy we would want in return.’ Which is kinda timeless. In fact isn’t that a mortal’s greatest gifts, to give of one’s time? Dor loves Alli, and though the strangers are visibly diseased, he and Alli open their door. But Dor continues to mark time. ‘Soon man [sic] will count all his days, and then smaller segments of the day, and then smaller still–until the counting consumes him, and the wonder of the world he has been given is lost.’ But we need not lose that wonder as we discover time. In fact, the more we know, the more we should wonder.

But in Albom’s world, humans aren’t like that. We lose wonder when things change. We seek to predict and control change, and especially time. We try to control the future, rather than love people in the present. In the novel, Dor leaves Alli’s side and races to confront the gods and stop time. Sarah spurns her mother, Lorraine, and pins all her hopes on a careless boy. Victor Delamonte seeks to cheat death but hides this from his wife, Grace, who is ‘determined to make the little time they had left more like the start of their life together, and less like the vast, joyless middle.’ Perhaps we should find joy even in the vast middle. Dor discovers time, but loses Alli, loses joy, loses hope. ‘And when hope is gone, time is punishment.’

Dor must rediscover hope and teach it to Sarah: ‘To deny that [–i.e., by committing suicide to deny the next moment–] is to deny the most important part of the future.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Hope.’ To Victor, Dor must learn and teach mortality’s purpose: ‘With endless time, nothing is special. With no loss or sacrifice, we can’t appreciate what we have.’ Seeking endless time, instead of appreciating the love before us, we try to control the time ahead of us, the future. We buy insurance, we invest in hedge funds, we play the futures market, we pursue efficiency, though that is like drinking salt water–it doesn’t satisfy; in fact, it only makes us thirst for more.

But the book satisfies. By the novel’s end, Dor learns time’s true value and finds the answer to why God limits our days–a true gift for Sarah, for Victor, for himself, for us all. Albom deftly handles this very large theme with its scary implications in this small and enjoyable book. We need hope. We need to accept our mortality. We need time.

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