My rating: 4/5 stars
Vero and her husband Shane have moved out of the sweet suite above his parents’ garage and found themselves smack in the middle of adulthood―two kids, two cars, two jobs. They are not coping well. In response to their looming domestic breakdown, Vero and Shane get live-in help with their sons―a woman from the Philippines named Ligaya (which means happiness), whom the boys call LiLi. Vero justifies LiLi’s role in their home by insisting that she is part of their family, and she goes to great lengths in order to ease her conscience. But differences persist; Vero grapples with her overextended role as a mother and struggles to keep her marriage passionate, while LiLi silently bears the burden of a secret she left behind at home.
Before I even started Between, there was a lot at stake. A story about a working mom of two, written by a working mom of two, set in contemporary Canada, raises my expectations. I want to see myself. I want to learn something about myself. I don’t want to feel misrepresented. I wonder if brooding middle-aged men feel this way about all the stories about/by brooding middle-aged men? Don’t answer that.
The synopsis of Between put me in mind of I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, a bit of a groundbreaker in the “two kids, two cars, two jobs” domestic novel. Now, I read IDKHSDI when I was 22, and had no clue about marriage, children, or work, for that matter. And I hated it. I found the main character insufferable and didn ‘t relate to her at all. I still think she was ridiculous for trying to disguise store-bought cupcakes as homemade, to keep up with the supermoms at pre-school. It was a lot of that, and “getting ahead” at work, and it fell flat. I didn’t care.
Unlike Pearson’s upwardly-mobile heroine, Vero is not particularly ambitious. To be ambitious, she’d have to have a goal. It’s hard to be goal-oriented when you’re chasing 1 and 3 year old boys, working, and dealing with your spouse and their dysfunctional family. Vero is in survival mode. Now that, I get.
Vero’s marriage isn’t exactly failing, it’s just plodding along like marriages with young kids tend to do. Someone gives Vero advice to the effect that couples with children under three should not be allowed to divorce. You’re not in your right mind. You haven’t slept in years. If you’re not a good partner it’s probably because you don’t have anything left to give.
They’re both delirious from lack of sleep. His words come to Vero as if spoken underwater, wavy and weak, parts of them floating away. She can’t tell whether the problem is his voice or her ears.
Abdou makes it tough to like Vero and Shane. They’re an awful representation of modern Canadian life, all consumerism and self-imposed stress, and so lacking in self-awareness, it makes you (ok, me) wonder: am like that too? I was reminded of Blind Spot, in which I related to a character who was revealed to be kind of terrible.
Ligaya, on the other hand, is easier to like. She’s overcome a lot to get to Canada, and has a tragic secret. Her Canadian life is kind of like that of a teenager – when she’s not caring for Vero and Shane’s children, she’s holed up in her room, or giggling with her girlfriend and trying on makeup. But 27-year-old Ligaya is more grown up than 42-year-olds Vero and Shane. She sees through their bullshit immediately.
The woman who meets Ligaya at the luggage carousel speaks no more of wealth than trees and rocks. She grabs at Ligaya’s hand, squeezes her fingers hard, and pulls Ligaya so close to her body that Ligaya hears herself squeak.
Wealth does not pull, Ligaya things. Money never needs.