Friday, November 30, 2012

Contemporary Fiction: In Between Days by Andrew Porter

Andrew Porter is a local (to me) San Antonio author who currently teaches at Trinity University. So it makes sense for me to be excited to read his most recent publication, In Between Days. Local bookstores were buzzing about it, and that gave me plenty of reasons to pick it up.

The Situation: The Harding family is sort of just...existing. Elson has recently divorced from his wife, Cadence, and is currently living on his own and continuing his work at a Houston architecture firm. He does have a girlfriend, Lorna, whom he loves (or at least thinks he does) because she is basically very different from his ex-wife and everything he has been used to. Cadence has also sort of moved on and is in a relationship with one of her professors. Their son, Richard, resides in the post-graduate space all college graduates have come to know and love (or hate) as he writes poetry that he never does anything with while working at a local coffee shop when he isn't getting high at a friend's house. And finally, there is Chloe, who is attending school on the east coast. Well, at least she was, until she was sent home on a suspension and events start to take a turn that effects everyone at home. If the Hardings thought just existing was hard enough, then they really weren't prepared for this.

The Problem: Chloe's boyfriend, Raja, is involved in an "incident" at their school, and Chloe has been implicated enough where the school finds it necessary to send her home while the investigation gets underway. But that isn't the end of it. After a few brief days, Chloe's family loses contact with her altogether. Even Richard, whom she has always been incredibly close to, can only guess where she is, what she is up to, and who is with her. Soon, government officials are showing up at Cadence's house, wanting to bring people in for questioning, asking if anyone knows where Chloe is or if they know anything that can help them find her. Chloe is in real trouble, and her plan of hiding out is only making things worse for her and her family. And if dealing with her wasn't stressful enough, Elson and Cadence attempt to navigate their post-divorce relationship, while Richard still isn't sure what exactly it is he wants to do with his life.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel telling the story of the modern day broken family during a particularly difficult time in their lives. Porter's story shows how certain behaviors and events can repeat themselves across different generations (that whole "sins of the father" thing), while also pointing out that ultimately we all make our own decisions as to who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives. Also, like quite a few books I have come across recently, this book highlights just how far some of us will go to get what we want, to get out of trouble, and how willing we can be to sometimes drag down those closest to us to get it, including people in our own family. Throughout the novel, family and friends get exploited and taken advantage of, often ruining the relationship forever and placing people down a path they will never recover from. But again, it was their decision, and they made it. And while the narrator is ultimately third person omniscient, Porter shifts the viewpoint between all four Harding family members in a way that is somehow not the least bit confusing. Having multiple viewpoints is always nice in that it gives the reader more information than what they would have access to if they were sticking with just one character.

My Verdict: I wanted to like this book more than I did, but the ending just kind of ruined it for me. I didn't quite believe that things could actually turn out the way they did and that life would be just fine. Don't get me wrong, Porter doesn't just tie everything up in a neat little bow. This is a messy situation that never gets completely cleaned up. But even so, something about how everything turns out just didn't ring true for me. Also, these characters, particularly the Harding family, are some of the most selfish characters I have ever read about...and I have what Homer Simpson would diagnose as a "reading problem" (bonus points if you can point to which Simpsons episode he says that in). I have read about a lot of selfish people, and for me, the Hardings would be right up there with Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, and Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray. Alright, maybe they aren't quite that bad, but there are moments where they are pretty close. However, I do like both Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but the selfishness, coupled with the ending, of Porter's novel just left an overall bad taste in my mouth. Even so, I am excited to check out whatever book Porter publishes next.

Favorite Moment: When Richard realizes that his current situation, even without the craziness surrounding his sister, is not the way he ultimately wants to live his life. 

Favorite Character: I would have to say Richard, but even he barely makes it in. The novel is full of people that are so broken and selfish that it is hard to truly like anyone like I would in a Dickens novel. I can feel empathy for them, but then they'll make a decision that will completely turn me off.

Recommended Reading: I am actually having a hard time making connections between this novel and others I have read, but I do keep coming back to Paper Towns by John Green. In Between Days is not a young adult novel like Paper Towns, but Chloe reminds me quite a bit of Margo sometimes because of her disappearance and how devoted the people around her seem to be to her happiness.

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