Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: "In Between Days" by Andrew Porter

There's nothing like dysfunction to affect family dynamics. Family issues have tremendous impact on the lives of all members, and at times, leave scars more lasting—and sometimes even more painful—than those left by physical injury. And of course, family dysfunction is an unending source of inspiration for the creative process—writers, poets, songwriters, playwrights, artists, etc.

The Harding family is deep in the midst of a crisis. Elson, once a tremendously promising architect who let ennui, anxiety, and the appeal of alcohol derail his achievement, is recently divorced from Cadence, his wife of 30 years, who vacillates between anger, betrayal, and the desire to move on. Their son, Richard, dreams of being a writer but is far too afraid of failing to actually attempt to pursue his dreams, so he consoles himself with a job waiting tables, and fills his nights with drugs and alcohol.

But the Hardings' lives hit the brink when their college-aged daughter, Chloe, is asked to take a leave of absence from college following her involvement in a mysterious incident which severely injured a fellow student, and she returns home. While no one is actually sure what happened, and what Chloe's role was, they understand it involved her boyfriend, Raja, and has resulted in law enforcement officers swarming the family's Houston home. When Chloe and Raja disappear, Cadence, Elson, and Richard each react in different ways, trying to determine how best to understand what the ramifications are of Chloe's actions and how to save her.

Andrew Porter's first novel, after his exceptionally fantastic story collection, The Theory of Light and Matter (which was one of the best books I read in 2010), is a complex and multi-layered look at a family deep in crisis. Switching narration among the four Hardings, the book examines all types of relationships—between husband and wife, parent and child, siblings, and the insatiable need of young love—and how lack of communication and doing and saying the wrong things can create so much damage.

The story unfolds slowly but you feel drawn into the Hardings' drama, despite the fact that none of them are particularly likable or sympathetic. At times, I wondered why any of the characters cared about each other when each was acting so ridiculously, but then I realized how true-to-life this actually was. Porter has an insightful way of creating realistically vivid dialogue and dilemmas for his characters. Each of them is faced with a critical decision at one point in the story which only leads to more chaos.

I love the way Porter writes, the way he uses language and evokes emotions. My problem with the book was I just didn't understand the motivations of some of the characters, which frustrated me. I also wished there was some tighter resolution to the whole story; I felt the conclusion seemed more like an afterthought than anything else. But of course, my criticisms once again emphasized how realistic this book was in depicting family dynamics and dysfunction. It never ends neatly, does it?

If you can handle experiencing the pain other families or fictional characters endure, this is a book definitely worth your time.

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