There are some tragedies that are almost too much to bear. Death of a child, for instance, is something so horrific and heart breaking that I struggle with reading books with that as a topic. (I’ve never been able to read The Shack, and I never will.)
The In-Between Hour is about a man and a woman trying to overcome tragedies – and potential tragedies – involving their sons. And yet Barbara Claypole White manages to give us hope.
Will Shepard (I won’t do a riff on the symbolism of his last name, but suffice it to say, I COULD) was a man with a plan: dump his pastoral North Carolina hometown and all of its inherent demons, head to New York, write books and never – or at least, very rarely – look back. No marriage, no children. Just “companions” and literary success. If his professional acclaim comes with the cost of writing a best selling detective series, Will can accept that. His aspirations don’t include Nobels or Pulitzers; it just includes doing what he enjoys and staying away from North Carolina.
And never having children.
But the thing with all those plans he makes is that he forgets that he’s not the only one calling the shots. It turns out that one of his lady friends got pregnant, and the day she shows up with Will’s son is a day he never thought he’d see and certainly never thought he would enjoy.
It turns out that Will takes to his boy Freddy quickly and passionately. He engulfs the child’s smell, he rearranges his life to accommodate him, and he forges an amicable relationship with Freddy’s mother. Will doesn’t necessarily approve of her life’s choices; she is a socialite with no understanding of responsibility, and she drinks too much.
Her drinking, in fact, leads to crushing agony for Will: she drives drunkenly with Freddy in the car and kills him.
As if this isn’t bad enough, Will’s widowed father has been kicked out of his nursing home for, basically, being an octogenarian thug. Jacob struggles with dementia, recalling his wife far more lovingly than Will does. He also struggles with remembering what, exactly, happened to Freddy. To ease his father’s mental anguish, Will decides to tell him that Freddy is traveling the world with his mother.
When the nursing home calls, though, Will is forced to return home. Forced to deal with his father, and forced to figure out his next step. He winds up staying with Jacob in a guest cottage on the grounds of a home owned by holistic veterinarian Hannah, who has her own parenting struggles with her older son Galen.
It would be trite to say that Will and Hannah heal each other, and it would also be false. We don’t – we can’t – heal each other’s spiritual and emotional wounds. What we can do is help them get through it, to survive, to – in Will’s case – live with it.
This is a beautifully written book that will pull you in from the first page. If there are perhaps a few convenient coincidences (one of which almost feels cheap), they are offset by the moments that ring so real that they are almost difficult to read. Will is obsessed with finding out what happened to his son – what exactly did he experience in those final moments of the crash? When he envisions the suffering and wonders if Freddy called out for him, it is heartbreaking.
I’ll admit it: I cried several times while reading The In-Between Hour. Hannah’s story is just aspoignant as Will’s, and and her uncertainty and insecurity regarding Galen is understated yet evocative. We understand from the start how frustrated she feels and how stymied she is by Galen’s illness.
Will and Hannah are interesting people whose struggles make us care for them. In some ways, Hannah is almost too good to be true, which makes her screw ups so appreciated by us readers. They make her more approachable.
The setting is as big a character as any of the humans in this tale. Mountains, Indian reservations, forests – nature beckons Will. Everything that he has resisted for so long winds up rescuing him.
It’s a lovely book that touchingly, gently, respectfully discusses some terribly sad subjects.
To read other reviews, check out the tour involved for this novel (the schedule can be found here).