Monday, September 16, 2013

A Modern Twist on Gothic Romance

The Time Between by Karen White
This novel brought me back to my senior year of high school.  I chose Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for my extended literary analysis research paper.  Truth be told, I only selected Rebecca because my first name is Rebecca.  Dumb reason, right? I'm sure many people have chosen books for far worse reasons.  I ended up liking the melodrama of Rebecca, but I ultimately disappointed my English teacher because I didn't want to focus on the gothic romance aspect of it for my research paper.  She looked at me through haughty eyes, and hacked a smoker's cough and said, "How can you not focus on the gothic romance of Rebecca?" I didn't take her hint, but I am one who learns from her mistakes.  So . .  Miss Adams, this blog is dedicated to you and the gothic romance aspect of Karen White's The Time Between.  

Before I patch up the past with my 12th grade English teacher,  I want to comment on the overall book. Although Karen White writes prolifically, The Time Between is my first foray into her work.  I love the titles of her books: Falling Home, The Lost Hours, The Memory of Water, Learning to Breathe, The Color of Light, just to name a few.  When I write my book, I hope I am half as capable to come up with a catchy title. Just like her catchy titles, White's writing captivated me from the very first sentence of the book when Eleanor thinks, "The first time I died was the summer I turned seventeen . . . Blood sat like melted coper in my open mouth as I rose above my broken body, splayed like a rag doll beside the dirt road." What's not to love about that opening?  Her narrative of Eleanor and Eve's troubled sisterhood derived from years of compounded guilt, a home grief ridden by the death of their father, and a rivalry over Eve's rather bland husband, Glen, unfolded like a mystery.  The bigger narrative revolved around the dying old woman, Helena's,  secretive past and her sister Bernadette's mysterious death.  Eleanor's handsome boss believes that she alone can help Helena crawl back from the brink of death by providing her companionship. And on the side he wants her to become a nanny of sorts to his precocious cancer surviving daughter, Gigi.  And, what he really wants is to get closer to her.  Dun, Dun, Dun.

I liked this book and I didn't like it.  The constant switch of female narration got wearisome.  There is a certain mystery that a first person narrative provides.  I don't always need to know what the other characters are thinking all the time, and that parallels how life goes.  Thankfully, I am not inside of other people's heads; I live only through my own experiences, what I think and what other people around me say and do.  The addition of Eve and Helena's 1st person narrative perspective muddied this book for me.  I knew too much too quickly, and all the female narrators sounded and thought the same.  And . . . most people don't think and especially don't talk the way these women do - so many realizations in so little time.  So many deep and poetic conversations . . . it started to feel more soap opera-ish to me as I progressed through the book.  I could almost see the camera angles and hear the dramatic music (probably Chopin) in the background.

Let's get back to the gothic romance aspect of the novel, and me trying to make amends for my 12th grade research paper.  Here is the definition of Gothic Romance from Infoplease (maybe not the best source, sorry Miss Adams, but it helps me make my point): "these novels usually concern spirited young women, either governesses or new brides, who go to live in large gloomy mansions populated by peculiar servants and precocious children and presided over by darkly handsome men with mysterious pasts."

  • Spirited young women (check)
  • Governess and new bride (check)
  • Go to live in a large gloomy mansion (check)
  • Populated by peculiar servants (kind of check, she likes to bake - does that count?)
  • Precocious children (check) 
  • Darkly handsome man with mysterious past (check)

I guess that says it all.  The big difference for The Time Between is that White updated the situations and setting (kind of - I was actually surprised when Eleanor said she didn't have a cell phone early on in the book, because I really thought the setting was late 1800s to the early 1900s). The Gothic Romance vibe was all over the place, though - hidden letters, expensive artwork in shabby frames, baskets containing the past, Gullah woman prophets who weave patterns that all have significance, a young, lonely boy who fell in love with the piano emanating from the neighboring house, rich old ladies who live with the curtains drawn on their Hungarian past, the setting on a beautiful (but mosquito riddled) island, and a willful woman who sneaks around the house wanting to creep into the dark corners of the truth. 

Quick ending note: So far from the 4 of Oprah's "6 Sizzling New Beach Reads" I've read, I haven't really LOVE loved any of them.  I kinda liked all of them (The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, The Yonahlossee Riding Club for Girls by Anton Disclafani, and The Time Between by Karen White), but I am ready to really fall in love with a book (it is close to fall, and I am ready for it).  I'm not sure if I will follow through with the last two on the list (abandon Sizzling New Beach Read ship before summer really is over!). 

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