In Between Days
By Andrew Porter
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307273512, September 2012, 336pp.)
The Short of It:
Nothing is easy when a man’s family falls apart.
The Rest of It:
I love dysfunction. Love it. I’d eat it up if it was on a plate in front of me. There is something fascinating about watching a family disintegrate before your eyes. Especially when you are doing it from the comfort of your home with happy “family” sounds in the background. The family portrayed in this book could be friends of mine, or the neighbors across the street. There is a realness to them that could not be ignored and that’s why I think I liked the book so much.
The story centers around the Harding family, Elson, a struggling architect, his ex-wife Cadence, his gay poet son Richard and his wayward daughter, Chloe. The fallout of their divorce is still lingering in the air, but both Elson and Cadence try their best to move on by starting relationships with other people. But it’s awkward for both of them. Cadence, having known nothing else but the role of mother and wife is now trying to understand who she is. And Elson, struggling both at work and at home, drowns his pain in drink. In the mean time, Richard doesn’t seem to be comfortable in his own skin and Chloe has been suspended from college for something that remains a mystery throughout most of the story.
As with most families, they come together in crisis and the crisis here is Chloe and her suspension from school. Ultimately, Elson is a good father. He loves his kids and realizes the mistakes he’s made, but his movements going forward are complicated by his current love interest and the fact that in the back of his mind, he still loves Cadence. There is a little piece of Cadence that still loves him too, but it’s buried beneath years of resentment and frankly, there’s little time to explore it because Chloe’s situation proves to be a lot more serious than they originally thought. So serious in fact that Chloe disappears.
The mystery surrounding Chloe and her disappearance is strung out through most of the novel. The reader is given clues along the way. Enough to keep you reading and Elson’s frustration and concern over the matter is palpable. Chloe frustrated the hell out of me. She comes across as an immature, privileged little college girl. She’s oblivious to the fact that her entire family is worried sick about her and yet she continues to make bad decisions. I realized at some point, that although Chloe’s situation seems to go on for most of the novel, it’s really not at all what the novel is about. What happens with Chloe is secondary to what happens to the family that is left behind. The collapse of a family is what this novel is about and Porter captures that well.
My one complaint is the setting. The story is set in Houston but that doesn’t come across at all in the telling. In fact, there are a couple of references that made me think the story was set in Los Angeles. The mention of one fast food restaurant and a very popular (quaint) neighborhood made me go back in the book to see if I had been mistaken about the setting. This was a bit of a letdown. Only because I so often look for a sense of place in a story and here, especially when it comes to Chloe’s disappearance, I didn’t get that.
Even with my little quibble above, I must say that I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The writing is genuine and effortless. It’s Porter’s first novel but I’ll be on the lookout for future books.
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