Harper Perennial, 1996
I'm late to the party that is Tananarive Due's work, and as I often do when I find an author I like, I am absolutely kicking myself for not
finding her sooner. This book, The Between, had me on serious pins and needles most of the way through.
This post will be a bit on the shorter side, since really, it would be very, very wrong to say too much about what goes on here. However, the first two lines in the book ought to signal right away that this story will be anything but run of the mill:
"Hilton was seven when his grandmother died, and it was a bad time. But it was worse when she died again."
That second time, Hilton and his Nana had been at the beach at a gathering of family members when Hilton was caught up in a dangerous rip current. His grandmother plunged in to save him, but died in the process, sacrificing his life for hers. Now a man with his own family, Hilton James feels he owes it to his Nana's memory to help save other people, and he does this through his work running a rehab center in Miami. He's married to Dede (pronounced Day-day), a newly-elected circuit-court judge, the "only black woman in Dade with that title," and they have two children, Kaya and Jamil. Everyone is happy, things are great all around. But that all changes when Dede receives horrible, racist, hate-laden death threats and the sender begins stalking the family. Aside from needing to protect his family from this monster, Hilton's own life descends into complete turmoil when he starts having bizarre nightmares that grow increasingly stranger and more frightening. He's also plagued by a string of strange experiences that he doesn't understand, which to the people in his orbit make him seem as if he's seriously coming unglued. As Hilton begins to question his own sense of reality, his internal chaos also begins to pull him away from his family at a time when they need him more than ever. He knows he should find some sort of help, but, as one of the characters notes, "the systems from the mundane world are not equipped to deal with the metaphysical."
I really do wish I could say more, but even the slightest hints about what happens here will wreck the experience. I get that my description sounds a bit tame and doesn't really scream horror novel, but this book disturbed me to no end. It was a bit like falling into a mind that seems to be unraveling right before your eyes and having no way to escape, with death at the center of it all. The author also explores grief and loss, mental illness, and the very real horrors of white supremacy and racist hate, which make their presence known throughout the novel in different forms.
The back-cover blurb says that The Between "holds readers suspended between the real and the surreal," and that's exactly what happened with me. It is one of the most hauntingly creepy books I've experienced this year, with Hilton's sense of shifting realities transferring directly from the book to my head so completely that I was thrown off throughout. Without any hesitation at all I can strongly recommend this book, but do yourself a huge favor beforehand and stay away from any book review that wants to give away the show.