Oh boy, I took in a huge book haul. Just when I'm fed up on horror and mystery and ready for nothing but non-fantastical fiction for a while. But oh, well, these will keep until I'm ready for chills and thrills again.
The Between by Tananarive Due
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When threatening letters soon find their way to his wife, Hilton James becomes seriously afraid for the safety of his family. Being the first African-American judge in Dade County, Florida, it can be any number of individuals that Dede has prosecuted. With tensions running high, and the threats getting worse, Hilton's own picture-perfect life, as well as his own reality, begin to fray at the edges.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
This one wasn’t even remotely on my radar before it was brought to my attention by Mike Thorn, author of Darkest Hours. I decided to pick a random suggested novel, as generally my favourites are books other people have told me to read. That’s the great thing about the community; you never know what you’ll end up with. I found Due’s eerily crafted story to be rather complex, and in all honestly, it was that complexity that intrigued me even further. This wasn’t a typical ghost story, but a breach in one person’s reality. It was emotional, and I oftentimes experienced discomfort in how much Due toyed with the mental states of her characters; their lives truly took a traumatising turn and that downward spiral was dammed scary. I was shocked to find how much I wanted things to work out for the James family, and as events escalated that pesky sense of dread never did subside. You see, when an author can humanise their characters enough for me to regard them like actual living, breathing people, then that’s where my ultimate attachment lies. Much like a family unit they tried desperately to overcome the unexpected, and we all know what that’s like, even if our daily problems aren’t supernatural in origin.
I do have to admit that I found it to have a rocky beginning. Hilton didn’t really leave me with a good first impression, what with secretly lusting after one of his former patients and then complaining about his very busy and stressed out wife. Despite these unappealing actions however, I eventually warmed to him and felt sympathy toward his plight. He had his obvious flaws and whilst some of his mistakes actually disgusted me, I couldn’t help but acknowledge his struggle. The further I progressed into the chapters, the more his life went to ruin - it was akin to watching a trainwreck. Do you ever feel the need to put down a book because it just got too heavy for you? Well, there were moments throughout where I needed a respite. This being my very first encounter with Due's writing, I was thrilled at how captivating her use of prose was. I think, overall, I prefer a less straight-forward structure, and more of an artfully constructed one. Here, it highly benefited the tone of the book.
The plot did well in making me question the legitimacy of Hilton’s bizarre experiences. At times it was left open enough to theorise on if he was actually mentally ill and suffering from some form of schizophrenia, or if he truly was being hunted by reflections of himself. The added aspect of African spirituality also interested me a great deal; I'm always in search of fiction that will prompt me to do research on beliefs I wouldn't otherwise be aware of. As I've already mentioned, the complexity came in the form of certain elements being intentionally vague and left open to interpretation. The dreams, the occurrences that seemed to erase themselves, they all hinted that something very thought provoking was at play.
In conclusion: A heart-wrenching story of one family and the otherworldly forces trying to tear them apart. I found the story-telling to be engaging, endearing, and successful in making my mind whirl. It was however draining at times, to the point I needed time to recover. I definitely want more of Due's works on my shelf though, and here's hoping they're just as emotionally charged.
Even with the humidity in the little house and the steam from pots boiling over on top of the stove, their lids bouncing like angry demons, Nana's flesh felt as cold as just-drawn well water. As cold as December. He'd never touched a person who felt that way, and even as a child he knew only dead people turned cold like that.
© Red Lace 2018
I originally read this back in 2010 and won't completely re-write my review from that time, but I am revising the rating down to a 3 from my original 4 stars. My feelings about the book a second time around are the same, but this time I felt that there were some serious pacing problems toward the end. The action is ramped up, then comes to a screeching halt with an interlude looking back at previous events, then back to action, then back to previous events. I found myself skipping forward over bits of it to get back to the action, which isn't easy to do on audio.
Still would recommend.
I read this for the Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun square for the 2016 Halloween Bingo.