In the acknowledgments section of his latest book, Mitch Albom writes, “Some books are tougher than others. Thanks to all who showed patience with me on this one.” The difficulty Albom experienced in penning “The Time Keeper,” released Sept. 4, is strikingly evident in the weak plot, flat characters and cliche themes created by this New York Times bestselling author.
Albom is the writer of beloved tales such as “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” which both contain insightful, relatively understated glimpses into the lives of interesting characters. In “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Albom chronicles his 14 weekly meetings with Morrie Schwartz, his 78-year-old former sociology professor at Brandeis University who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” Albom recounts the story of an elderly man named Eddie who dies while trying to rescue a little girl on a ride at Ruby Pier, the amusement park at which he is the head of maintenance. Eddie then meets five people with whom he was somehow connected in life, even in seemingly insignificant ways.
While “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” certainly portray common themes of love, happiness, human interconnectedness and the trajectory of life, Albom relates these themes in unique ways — through conversations with a professor and imaginative, yet understated, stories of the life encounters of an ordinary man after death.
In “The Time Keeper,” however, Albom draws on the experiences of trite, archetypal figures — a moneyed businessman mired in his work and a nerdy high school senior in the throes of a first crush — to elucidate the theme of life’s ephemeral nature and the preciousness of time.
Protagonist Victor Delamonte is a successful businessman — the 14th wealthiest person in the world — and he is dying of kidney cancer. He hopes to cheat death by freezing his corpse in a cryonics lab to be revived when medicine is advanced enough to cure his disease. Victor is a classic workaholic. He works into his mid-80s, ignores his wife to run his company, stays awake for West Coast business hours and has his assistant brief him on office matters while he is in the hospital undergoing dialysis. Incredulous at his immortality, Victor cannot “imagine the world without him” and hopes to be reanimated by cryonics in another life.
The book’s other main character, Sarah Lemon, is an awkward, chubby high school senior who develops a dangerous crush on a boy named Ethan, who once tried to seduce her but has since shown no interest. She texts him obsessively, travels to New York to buy him an expensive watch and asks him to meet her on Christmas Eve to present her gift. When Ethan rejects Sarah’s advances, she tries to kill herself.
Victor and Sarah’s plotlines converge at the end of the novel when the two meet Dor, or Father Time, who grew up in ancient Babylon and created the first clock. Dor was imprisoned in a cave for 1,000 years for attempting to measure time. In a bizarre, “Christmas Carol”-esque sequence of events, Dor shows Victor and Sarah scenes from the future. Sarah witnesses Ethan’s apathy after her death and her mother’s enduring grief. Victor sees his revived body, which lies mangled and disfigured in a tube while his memories flash on a video screen before an audience of viewers.
As a result, Victor and Sarah realize the precious nature of time and the need to spend it with the ones they love. Victor decides to die and be buried naturally and weakly calls for his wife on his deathbed, but not before improbably donating his wealth to fund Sarah’s education. Sarah, in turn, attends an unspecified Ivy League school and finds a cure for “the most dreaded disease of our time” that will “save millions of people, and life will never be the same.”
While Albom’s “carpe diem” message is abundantly clear, readers are left wondering why Albom even attempted to join the ranks of those such as Thomas Mann (“The Magic Mountain”) or Gabriel Garcia Márquez (“One Hundred Years of Solitude”) who have written true classics about humans’ relationship to time. Perhaps Yvonne Zipp of The Washington Post said it best when she wrote, “Time is precious. The good news is that readers can save themselves tens of valuable minutes by skipping [Albom’s] novel.”