Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: The Between

Let me tell you what I thought about The Between by Tananarive Due.

I am a snob when it comes to my reading time. I'll read short stories until the apocalypse, especially those written by real, live People I KnowTM, but novels...I need some pretty strong recommendation. As a wannabe writer, I want to emulate the best of the best, and that starts with my reading selections.

The Between was mentioned on this list, posted at the Horror Writer's Association website. I read the blurbs online, checked out Amazon reviews, and decided that this one was it. But it wasn't. Not for me, anyway.

Hilton James has been having bad dreams...he nearly drown as a boy, his grandmother saved him but died in the process. The trick: she had already died once before. Now it seems Hilton is stuck in "the between"--not alive, not dead. Top that off with a racist terrorist that has threatened Hilton's wife, Dede (the only black judge in Dade County, Florida), and the book has its share of suspense.

The story was fine...spooky enough and a little different...but the prose threw me off. The author has worked in the newspaper industry (a features writer and columnist at the Miami Herald), and I hear a journalistic style in the novel. Every character is given a reporterly description, no matter how minor--"middle-aged white woman in black clothes," "Four boys, two white, two black"--at points the prose commits the ultimate "tell instead of show" sin.

Also, I just didn't connect with Hilton as much as I should have to really care about his lot. I loved his wife and kids (both quite precocious), but Hilton didn't really gel for me. His therapist (Raul) and police buddy (Curt) were more genuine characters. Hilton came off as a man to which bad things happened...and sometimes I wondered why he didn't fight back more when reality slipped away.

I've heard Due's later novel, Soul to Keep, is a better read. I might try it after a while. For now, The Between scores a 3/5 for me: a well-written book that just wasn't quite tight enough.

The more I read, the more book blurbs become meaningless. Case in point from the front cover: "A finely honed work that always engages and frequently surprises." - New York Times Book Review

"Always" is a pretty powerful word and shouldn't be used lightly.


Robert said...

I’ve become very leery of book blurbs over the years. Usually so-and-so is blurbing a book because a) they are friends with that writer or b) they share the same agent/publisher with that writer. Sometimes if a favorite writer of mine gives a book a great blurb, I’ll be apt to check it out, but usually I only refer to the Publishers Weekly review. As they’re almost always anonymous, the reviews seem to be consistent in their brutal honesty, which is good.

And regarding the HWA reading list, I just checked it out and find it to be a very sketchy list indeed -- but then when I saw who complied it, it sort of made sense ...

Aaron Polson said...

Robert--you are a very astute reader as always...I hadn't even noticed the "compiled by" note at the end.

I once was ignorant enough to believe the blurb was an honest opinion...RIP naiveté.

BT said...

I am still insulated enough to not know who the guys are who compiled the list - and ignorant enough not to care. There seem to be a lot of 'classics' on the list so I'm guessing it would make for a good starters list for writers who need to know what's come before and to learn a little, but obviously, some are a little less classic than others.

The best book I've read by a modern author is The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff. I lent it to my sister last week and she is a prolific reader with a specific tastes. She was cautious about giving it a go but did so on my recommendation - she loved it. She is now reading her second book. I haven't read that one yet!

Aaron Polson said...

I need to add The Harrowing to my TBR pile.