The Space Between
Blue Fairy Books, 2009
Yes, another book from another small press publisher Blue Fairy Books. At this point The Space Between by Erik Tomblin is their only book. The site has a really neat flash trailer that really captures the atmosphere of the novel; you should definitely check it out. The Space Between is, in a sense, a haunted house story. Then again it isn’t really a haunted house story. It is, perhaps more accurately, a haunted person story. Musician Isaac Owens arrives to the house already haunted by the memories of his recently deceased girlfriend and the house, and some of the other characters in the novel, are themselves haunted by their own pasts. It is also a novel that, in the end, that left this reader a bit haunted himself.
I should point out here that given the southern setting I was expecting a novel with a languid narrative drenched in Southern Gothic overtones and a slightly more poetic vocabulary. While Tomblin certainly employs certain elements of the Southern Gothic in terms of setting he employs a more workman-like tone and vocabulary. This isn’t really a bad thing but I did have to readjust my own expectations as a result. There is a great degree of clarity to the prose, a specificity of place and setting that I’ve never really seen in other novels. Tomblin has a very specific vision of setting, of the house and grounds in particular, that he convey’s with a laudable ease. I don’t know whether or not the house in the book is based on a house in real life but in either case Tomblin displays an almost uncanny ability in crafting the locations in the book; so much so that even after having set the book down several days ago I can still easily conjure up the various places that Isaac visits.
As brilliant as that sense of setting is there are some aspects of the novel that didn’t sit as well with. One of which was Isaac’s sudden, love-at-first-sight connection with Elizabeth. Perhaps I’ve grown a bit cynical but there seems little foundation for their sudden romance is a bit shaky and, time displacement aside, as a couple they seem rather ill-matched. Isaac comments on Elizabeth’s similarity to his deceased lover Emily, his escape to Southern Georgia as means to exorcise her memory and presence in his life, and in-part his physical reaction to Elizabeth’s presence leads me to believe that his attraction to Elizabeth, his drive to “save” her, is more based on his feelings towards Emily then any actual love for Elizabeth.
In truth the reader’s experiences with Isaac resemble a somewhat twisted run-through of the stages of grieving. It’s not perfect but they’re there in Isaac’s initial inability to divorce himself from the expectations and opinions of Emily (denial), his use of music at the end of his tour that he had previously played only for her as well as his reminiscing about the night of her death (bargaining) and his inability to compose new music or rather his ability to compose only really dark music (depression). Where things kind of twist off path is with the introduction of Elizabeth and culminating in scene where, as Isaac falls asleep, we learn it is the first night he doesn’t turn to the space next to him looking for Emily. Is this really the road towards acceptance though? This move “forward” seems to come only as a result of his attraction to Elizabeth and the belief that he can save her when he couldn’t save Emily. I would posit that this is not “true love” at all and more an act of transference. (Note: I am particularly fond of the wikipedia article’s use of the phrase “emotional time warp,” apropos I think). As I sad, when it comes to love maybe I’m a bit of a cynic but I just didn’t buy Isaac’s attraction to Elizabeth as love. It is a conceit that, in the heat of the moment, I had to force myself to buy into.
That being said I still enjoyed the novel. I think that someone who can actually buy into love at first sight might find Isaac/Elizabeth an easier pill to swallow but I also think that the novel works extraordinarily well as a metaphor for grieving. It is a novel that certainly stuck with me all weekend. There are some elements I found predictable especially when once we get certain details about a specific character it becomes fairly obvious what exactly that character is and I found it a bit odd that Isaac was so slow to grasp that fact. I was also slightly nonplussed by some of the attention given to Isaac’s physical well being early in the novel, but maybe I missed something there. The Space Between is an impressive novel that is well worth a look by fans of supernatural fiction and is a novel that I think will haunt you long after you’ve closed its cover. The Space Between is available from Amazon (both trade and Kindle), direct from the publisher, and from MobiPocket.