Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Distance Between Us (Bart Yates)

Overall: 5
  • Plot: 5/5
  • Originality: 5/5
  • Language: 5/5
  • Believability: 4.8/5
The Distance Between Us by Bart Yates

At 71, Hester Parker lives alone in an elegant Victorian house. Her biting wit can't hide the bitterness that comes with loss - the loss of her career as a concert pianist, and of her renowned violinist husband, Arthur, who left her for another woman. The arrival of a lodger, Alex, helps her reconnect with the world outside - as well as exposing old memories and grief that she's long tried to bury. His presence, for one short month, leaves a surprising legacy of acceptance, comfort and hope for the future.
Genre: General Fiction
Purchase Links:
Kindle US | UK | DE
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Paperback US | UK | DE
Hardcover US | UK | DE
Other Links:
author website

This novel was actually my challenge from The Quasi-Official Book Game Klub for the month of September. It looks as if I just made the deadline!

I don't think any book could ever be described as "perfect", but Bart Yates's The Distance Between Us comes much closer than I ever expected.

Growing up in a household where I was either making or listening to music at odd hours of the day and night, this novel struck me in the authenticity of Hester's passion for it. To her, it is more than a profession or a gift; it is life itself,  and a language so wholly unique that it takes a kindred spirit to truly understand. All of this comes through in shadows of the past and her ongoing need for classical music in the background even when drinking herself into a tizzy.

Yates demonstrates a stunning command of language as he mixes plot with honest characterizations that show both the strengths and failures of each imaginary person involved. Each personality is distinct and stays true to itself even when demonstrating redeeming and condemning features. The repartee between members of the Donovan family is absolutely brilliant, and it broke my heart even as it made me laugh. It was so depressingly pathetic and hilarious that I couldn't help it.

Beyond that, the story slowly reveals itself through a combination of present day and flashback as Hester tries to remember just how her family fell apart. At first, it seems rather straightforward: her husband had an affair, her children took his side, and now a random tenant is keeping her company and preventing her from becoming that crotchety old lush in a fancy house. Bit by bit, however, the author introduces emotional depth, and purpose, in a way that flows naturally and drags you into the mechanisms of the disintegration of the Donovan household. The complexity of it, as well as the realness, is astounding and shows a great understanding of the human condition, more so because the ending isn't neat and tidy, but rather, it all plays out in a manner that one can believe in.

My one potential complaint about this novel was that the entire tale took place over the course of a one-month period. I feel as if I've made a yearlong journey, and the idea that all of it could have occurred over the span of thirty some-odd days seems almost preposterous. Looking back, however, the timeline does indeed fit; it just seems like a great deal of activity for such a short period of time. (There were also a few typographical errors towards the last few chapters, such as a dropped "I" or random spaces occurring in the middle of words. Luckily, I was too caught up to notice . . . much.)

Most books whose description includes such phrases as "formidable writer" and "unforgettable new novel" lend themselves to the possibility of being overblown. This novel, however, deserves all of those accolades and more.

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