Friday, July 12, 2013

Book Review: "The Measures Between Us" by Ethan Hauser

The theme song from the hit television show Cheers said, "Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got." Sometimes that is absolutely true. Although life is often filled with the ordinary, punctuated by moments of drama or stress (or both), simply making it through the every day struggles we face can be difficult and require more strength and fortitude than we can imagine.

Ethan Hauser's novel The Measures Between Us is a beautifully written book about people making it through the struggles of everyday life, and coping with the bumps and bruises along the way. Vincent, a high school shop teacher, and his wife, Mary, are contemplating sending their troubled daughter, Cynthia, to a mental hospital because they fear she might harm herself. Vincent seeks the counsel of a former student, Henry, who is now a psychologist. Meanwhile, Cynthia, both before and after her time in the hospital, has an on-again, off-again relationship with Jack, an intern on a project that tries to understand climate change, particularly flooding, and how it affects those who choose to stay in their homes during floods.

Henry's life is not without its own problems. He and his wife, Lucinda, are expecting a baby, and although their relationship appears to be strong, both are struggling—Henry with fidelity, and Lucinda with feelings of dread about her pregnancy and her life with Henry, because she isn't sure if she can handle how much he loves her.

I was completely captivated by Hauser's writing and the way he spun each of his characters' stories, but ultimately, I found this book not entirely satisfying. Other characters in the book are brought into the plot and appear at its periphery, but you're never quite sure why. The book spends some time recounting Henry's interviews with people who lived through significant floods, but you're never quite sure where these stories connect to the plot (except for one incident that seems to be a catalyst for an encounter that never goes anywhere). And I found the ending of the book completely jarring, as something occurs but is only mentioned, and I felt totally robbed by it given my investment in the plot and the characters.

Interestingly enough, the description of The Measures Between Us talks about an unprecedented storm threatening the East Coast, but that is really a minor plot point that goes nowhere. This is a book more about the storms of everyday life and how we choose to weather them (or avoid them). And, like life, our success rate is mixed—sometimes the storms pass and sometimes the storms hit us. I just wish the book was as fully engaging as Hauser's writing is.

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