Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Between

The Between
Tananarive Due

Say what one will about Amazon - and I have plenty to say - one area in which it excels is in delivering out-of-print, hard-to-find books. Sometimes these books are available elsewhere electronically, but if you want paper in your hands, Amazon will usually succeed where even Powell's fails. Whether the books deserve to be out-of-print and hard-to-find is an entirely different matter.

The Between was championed somewhere, at some point, by a writer who I trust, if I recall correctly, although not to me specifically. From there it moved to my Amazon wishlist, and eventually to my doorstep. It's a novel that could better be described as speculative fiction verging on horror than as fantasy, insofar as fantasy conjures up elves and quests. Instead, it is almost a realistic novel, set in our everyday world, with a little bit of spirit haunting.

The book reminded me strongly of Neil Gaiman, which isn't to suggest that Due is derivative; The Between was published in 1995, about when Gaiman's first solo novel was being written. But you could take Due's novel and repackage it with Gaiman's name and have a best-seller on your hands. (Of course, Gaiman could publish a book consisting of photos of his bowel movements, and his loyal readers would rush to praise it. That he doesn't is a testament to the fact that, in addition to being a good writer, he appears to be a decent human being.) Instead, it received modest critical acclaim and eventually fell out of print.

The SFF community likes to depict itself as egalitarian, enlightened, and not prone to celebrity worship. Not like those mundanes panting for the next installment of the Kardashians or Teen Mom, no sir! But speculative fiction fans are not free of sexism or racism, and they're as likely as everyone else to lionize the writers that already have been idolized by others. Gaiman is a handsome, goth/rock-god-looking white man, in a leather jacket with rumpled hair. And Due is a black woman, full stop. While she's continued to publish, she's never achieved the level of success that would return her backcatalog to print.

Yet The Between is a highly readable story, accessible both to genre fans and readers of realistic fiction. It's the story of one man whose world is starting to crack, and it's the story of him struggling to hold his marriage and family together. It's the kind of book a lot of readers would enjoy, if they knew it existed.