As I wrote, Andrew Porter is a talented writer -- in some ways he reminds me of Richard Russo, but without the humor that always inhabits a Russo novel. But Porter has the same rich command of language, the ability to get inside the head of the character who is the focus of the story, and to make the most ordinary and extraordinary events seem real. The only reason I did not give the book five stars is because I felt it did take a little too long to get started.
The book is told from the points of view of the four members of the Harding family of Houston, Texas. Although the exact ages of the parents, Elson and Cadence, are not given they are at least late 40's and have recently and bitterly divorced, much to the dismay of their two adult children, Richard and Chloe. Elson is an architect who drinks hard and has acquired a girl friend; Cadence is going back to college; Richard has graduated but working at a low paying job while still living at home; and Chloe has been sent home from college due to an event involving her boyfriend, Raja, which obviously was something serious enough to involve the police. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, with Chloe's story slowly taking center stage as her parents and brother uncover the mystery of what happened "that night" on campus when another student was seriouly injured.
At first, I had a difficult time warming to any of the characters -- Elson and Cadence in particular, although I am certainly closer to their ages then to the ages of their children. Elson is what is commonly known as a control freak, who needs to know every aspect of the life of his ex and his girl friend, even at the risk of driving the latter away. Cadence (whose name I thought was really Candace, but is actually Cadence, meaning "rhythm") is a deliberate stonewaller when it comes to providing information, probably as a reaction to life with Elson who needed to know everything. Richard is gay, a talented poet who seems to be drifting, and resisting assistance from a college professor who is attempting to help him make some important decisions about his poetic gift. Chloe is closed off in many ways, the one who seems to be suffering most from the divorce, but confused about her relationship with Raja and her role in what he and another student did "that night." Porter does an excellent job of presenting these characters to the reader --he doesn't tell you their traits as I just did, but shows them to you over the course of the novel. By the end, I had warmed to each one of them but with different degrees of attachment -- Richard being my favorite from the beginning, but Chloe, who had the most difficult decision to make of the four, a close second. This is in many ways a novel about making a difficult decision (or decisions), how we arrive at the process, and then how we use the process to decide what to do.
Porter it seems to me wanted to show his characters as being alone in their decision making process and their lives in general. Unless I missed it, and I don't believe I did, none of the Hardings has a companion animal with which to share their days and nights. As someone who cannot feature life without a dog or cat, this to me seems to be pertinent to their respective isolation. Elson's drinking, Cadence's soulless and primarily sexual relationship with a younger man, Richard's resentment of the kindness and concern of his college professor, and Chloe's seeming inability to communicate with Raja over the consequences of the crime he committed are indications of an aloneness that I would not want to feel in my life. The fact that none of them has any evidence of a sense of humor is also another way of isolating them from society. Porter handled this deftly. While as I indicated earlier the novel seemed to start a little slowly, by the middle it had me, and as it became more and more Chloe's story I found it difficult to put down. Bravo, Mr. Porter, and much success!
Chloe Harding could be one of the happiest persons alive. She is a successful student enrolled in a prestigious college, has a boyfriend she loves and lots of friends. Chloe is suddenly expelled from school and is being harassed by the local police. How could this have happened?
My initial expectation was that this story would focus on Chloe's problem. Why was she expelled? Was she actually guilty of a crime? How could she have been in the wrong place? Who could do this to her? In Between Days however, emphasizes relationships. This is a character driven novel. The plot has multiple storylines, but is predictable. The characters a well drawn and real. They narrate four different, alternating perspectives.
Chloe comes from a dysfunctional family. Her father Elson is stuck in a dull job, drinks to excess and is recently divorced by his wife Cadence. Cadence, after thirty years of marriage, finds herself questioning the meaning of her life and why she dropped out of college to marry Elson. Their son Richard recently "came out" and resents his father for not supporting him.
The plot is typical, father and mother fighting, children feeling unloved and neglected, siblings becoming close and keeping secrets. The parents try disparately to keep control. Each of the people slowly learn how little control they have over others
What makes this story worthwhile is its close exposure of the feelings and problems typical of people in a disjointed family - a fractured family. This is all set in homes and cafes of Houston, with satisfying enough detail to make the reader picture sections of the city that the author obviously loves.
The novel is full of psychological suspense, with each of the family members worrying about the others and hoping to manipulate them a little. A sub-theme is an intriguing tale of betrayal and forgiveness of a friend. I recommend this novel for those who enjoy character studies.
on September 24, 2012
This month--September 2012--I did something I've never done. Twice, actually. I pre-ordered two books: The first was Porter's In Between Days, the other was Junot Diaz's newest story collection. I loved both.
But let me focus here, on Porter's novel, and explain why I was so excited to read. The first reason, I think, is because a couple years ago I read his short story collection--The Theory of Light and Matter--and I was blown away. The subtle brilliance, the simple eloquent language, the complexity of his characters, and the way in which Porter played with notions of memory. And it was for these same reasons, I loved In Between Days.
Unlike his story collection--which is narrated in the first person--In Between Days is narrated in third. And its perspective rotates between four characters--Elson (dad), Cadence (mom), Chloe (daughter), and Richard (son). This is a complicated family with complicated issues. Chloe is in trouble with the law; Elson and Cadence are divorced; Elson has issues with alcohol and suffers from his own insecurities at work (he's an architect); Cadence is stuck in a kind of paralyzing state of what was and what could be (she married at a young age), and Richard is trying to grow up while trying to negotiate family dynamics, relational issues of his own (both sexual and otherwise), and whether or not to pursue graduate school. And here's what I really loved about this book: the tender moments in which these family members try and comfort each other while working out their own family or personal issues. Or, at other times, when they seek out comfort from others.
If you have an interest in fully immersing in the lives of complex literary characters, I mean really truly living in their minds and hearts and enduring what they experience, read this book. It's been mentioned in other reviews that Porter's novel is a page turner. It's true. I couldn't put it down.
And when you're finished reading, do yourself a favor and purchase his story collection, The Theory of Light and Matter. I've read those stories, two, three, four, some five times, and I'm already looking forward to rereading.
on August 31, 2012
This story is told through the view point of each member of the Harding family. Divorced parents Candace and Elson and their children; Richard the gay son who is a new age hippie uncomfortable in his skin and Chloe, who was recently asked to leave her college though we don't know exactly why until midway into the book.
It's incredibly difficult to create sympathy for characters who are quite flawed, but for some reason, I found each character likable enough to keep reading - even when they were railing against each other, it was hard for me to pick a side.
I don't normally enjoy such heavy handed family drama, but the author crafted such a fast moving story, I was immediately pulled in and stayed immersed until I finished this the following evening.
Fast paced story that will make even the most crazy family seem sane.
Subtle, but never dull is the best way I can think to describe this portrait of a contemporary family in late transition. A daughter goes off to college, a son embarks tenuously on adulthood, and a couple decides without the obligation of child-rearing, it is no longer necessary to remain married. The family unravels, but does not come completely apart, having functioned interdependently for so long. Although these people, these characters, are not particularly remarkable, the author has managed to make them compelling, no easy feat, and one that most who compose this sort of snapshot novel fail miserably at, in my experience. Even the eventual disappearance of the daughter doesn't overshadow the dynamics and struggle for homeostasis already in play.
on August 7, 2012
I really got absorbed in this book right away. It got my attention and I couldn't put it down. It is told from different points of view throughout. This is a family falling apart at the seams. The parents, Elson and Cadence, who are in their late 40's, early 50's,have divorced. Their oldest child, Richard, is living with them again as he flounders in where he is going and what he can do with his degree. Their daughter, Chloe, has abruptly dropped out of college under very dire circumstances that puts the whole family in a tail spin.
What was interesting for me is following the emotions of these key players and how they react to a given situation, according to their age and what has been happening to them and how one event can change everything quickly. The family comes together, yet falls apart at the same time. Situations may not get resolved but choices are made and life takes a turn in a direction different than planned, at least for Chloe and Richard. I believe Elson and Cadence end up right where they were going to end up along.
My only complaint is I was a bit disappointed with the ending, yet it wasn't bad by any means. I am just a bit of an Idealist and like happy endings. This book had a realistic ending, satisfying and believable. Worth the read!
Excellent excellent book club choice. OH MY there is a lot going on in this story & thank goodness they aren't my family! The story is told in alternating chapters from each person's perspective. The writing is elegant and perfect, the story realistic and compelling. Each family member has huge regrets both for actions taken or not taken on a road less travelled.
Chloe, expelled from college her junior year age 20, for her involvement when another student was seriously injured by her boyfriend Raja who she simply adores as the personification of all good things. Meanwhile at such a young age I hope she doesn't mess up and if she does, well, she has the rest of her life to make it right.
Richard, her brother, is living in the family home in Houston Texas with their mom, struggling with whether he should get an advanced degree in poetry. He's working part time in a café, dates men (to Elson's dismay), drinks and uses drugs. A former professor who believes in his talent or does he? His friend Brandon is a lover for hire. Meanwhile I hope he make all the right moves, I like him.
Cadence, their mother, dropped out of college to marry their father, divorced him months ago after decades of feeling unfulfilled. Richard and Chloe are taking the divorce hard and Cadence has a therapist to find her way and that is unfulfilling too. Meanwhile I hope everything turns out well for her.
Elson, their dad, is a bit of a control freak so by nature perfectly suited to being an architect by profession. He was once considered an up and comer -- hates his job, has always drunk too much and after thirty years of marriage he is BITTER that his unfulfilled wife (hello? You're a drunk who wasted your potential) left him. Meanwhile I kinda like him.
Both parents are dating younger people.
on August 8, 2012
In Between Days, Andrew Porter's first novel, is a family drama told from four different, alternating perspectives--mom, dad, brother, and sister. Elson (the dad) is a once-promising architect who now struggles with life after divorce, teetering on the edge of alcoholism and irresponsibility. Elson's wife Candace is unfulfilled by her role as mother to two young adults and regrets dropping out of college to marry Elson when she was young. While Elson and Candace grapple with their rocky relationship, their children are busy with their own difficult issues. Richard is a gifted poet who is afraid to recognize his talent and instead prefers to work in a local café, and Chloe is a love-addled college student intent on making bad decisions.
The Harding family has more than its fair share of drama. More happens to these four characters in the space of a few months than seems natural, but the result is a suspenseful story with multiple storylines, all unfolding in parallel. Chloe's adventure is the most exciting (and dangerous) story line, but Porter also does justice to Richard's struggles as a poet and Elson's flawed role as a husband and father. As a character, only Candace seems a little ill-defined, but perhaps that is exactly what Porter was going for as Candace herself seems to be searching for her identity. Porter ends the novel in a way that is elegant and satisfying without being at all predictable.
Throughout this novel Porter takes his time with the details. He describes the homes, cafes, and streets of Houston with loving familiarity. His characters lounge by pools in the warm evenings and drink coffee at Café Brasil. As a native Houstonian, I loved reading about my city through the lens of Porter's story.
After reading Andrew Porter's debut award-winning short story collection, The Theory of Light and Matter, I knew to expect great things from Porter, and In Between Days fulfilled all my expectations. I can't wait to read more by this promising writer.
on September 19, 2012
I highly recommend this novel, one of the best I've read this year. I was familiar with Andrew Porter's short stories, so I was expecting beautiful writing and interesting characters, which I found. What I was not expecting was a suspenseful page turner that I could not put down.
This book is about a divorced couple in Houston and their two young adult children. Their younger daughter Chloe has been expelled from college, and the various family members attempt to deal with the fallout from Chloe's difficult situation. Each of the characters is complicated and layered, and I felt empathy with each even as they made their own brand of bad choices. The descriptions of the places, situations, relationships all seemed absolutely on target. Having daughters who recently graduated from college, I was especially drawn to to the issues the young adults were dealing with and empathetic to the reactions of their parents, who vacillated between intervening and "trusting the judgment" of their adult children.
Part of the pleasure of reading this book -- aside from the wonderful language and descriptions -- was the fast paced unfolding of the surprises in the plot. I never felt that anything was cliched -- the plot turns were surprising yet completely understandable in light of the characters and their flaws. This is an excellent relationship novel, in the path of Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta, and I highly recommend it.
Ok, so the title of this review is a little self centered. But like the characters in the book I am approaching fifty, recently divorced, left with the question, "where did it all go wrong" and while this book certainly isn't a self help book it will help you reflect on how fast time goes by, the regrets we have for the choices made and even deeper regrets for the choices we DIDN'T make.
The book focuses on a family in Houston (Houston we have a problem (sorry)) that is splitting apart at the seams. It is divided evenly between husband (Elson) wife (Cadence) son (Richard) and daughter (Chloe). Each participant seemingly lost as the title of the book reminds you - In Between Days. They live in the present, reside in the past, while searching for a future that just seems out of reach for all four characters. The interaction and dialogue between characters is believable along with the pain that each one hold deep within, afraid to reveal the secrets they hold even to themselves.
Some of my favorite parts is the games Cadence plays with her therapist rationalizing her fears within as if saying them would make them real.
The arc of the book follows Chloe's expulsion from college and the book slowly reveals the why, not only for her but for each character.
The writing is crisp, smart and witty, and any lover of character study will find a lot to pick over in this novel.
4 1/2 stars.