The Between by Tananarive Due
The Between, first published in 1995, is Tananarive Due’s classic horror novel, about a man who must risk his life to save his family from malignant forces, both supernatural and all too human. In the mid-1990s, Hilton James suddenly starts experiencing the dreadful dreams he had before, early in his marriage. Time with a therapist and a hypnosis session seemed to help then, but now the episodes are worse, and he begins to have waking dreams, until sometimes he can’t tell when and where he is. To make matters worse, his wife Dede (pronounced Day-day), who is the first elected African-American judge in Dade County, Florida, has been targeted by a white supremacist, who draws ever closer to Dede and Hilton’s son and daughter. He must battle both mundane and other-worldly terrors. Even if he saves his family’s life, he may lose his marriage.
Hilton, orphaned at a young age, was raised by his grandmother. When he was ten, she died saving him when he went swimming at a public beach and was caught in the undertow, but Hilton has a memory of her dying before that, and coming back to life. After that event, his Nana had terrible dreams. In the present, after Hilton has a close call in a car accident, his own nightmares return, filled with death and fire. More worrisome are the words Hilton hears in his head… words that show up in letters written by the racist who is circling the family.
Against a vividly described 1990s Florida, Hilton’s plunge into unreality is plausible and relentless. In the mundane world, his work as the director of a rehab center brings him and the reader face to face with the AIDS epidemic and its terrible cost. Racism is everywhere, and a key element for me was the absolute lack of sympathy the James family faces in their mostly-white neighborhood, as the racist killer draws closer. Meanwhile, Hilton’s hold on reality, or “reality” inexorably slips away. Gradually he and the reader start to see the shape of what is happening to him, but it isn’t until close to the end of the book that Hilton gets the information he needs to guide his path, and by then it may be too late for him and his family, especially his daughter, who wants to be a doctor, and find a way to cure AIDS.
Due guides the story and releases clues flawlessly, letting suspense build, carrying us along with Hilton as the barrier between what really happened and what might have happened grows thinner and more slippery. The best example is a chance sexual encounter with a former resident of his program—an act that betrays both his marriage and his professional ethics.
Secondary characters like his daughter, Kaya, wife Dede and his therapist Raul Puerta are well-drawn and have their own motivations and agency.
I missed this book in the 90s when it came out, but nearly 30 years later, it holds up as a horror story and a sharply drawn depiction of life in this period. Plus, it’s got a flawed main character I still root for, and it’s scary as all get-out.
Published in 1996. When Hilton was just a boy, his grandmother sacrificed her life to save him from drowning. Thirty years later, he begins to suspect that he was never meant to survive that accident, and that dark forces are working to rectify that mistake.When Hilton’s wife, the only elected African-American judge in Dade County, FL, begins to receive racist hate mail, he becomes obsessed with protecting his family. Soon, however, he begins to have horrible nightmares, more intense and disturbing than any he has ever experienced. Are the strange dreams trying to tell him something? His sense of reality begins to slip away as he battles both the psychotic threatening to destroy his family and the even more terrifying enemy stalking his sleep. Chilling and utterly convincing, The Between follows the struggles of a man desperately trying to hold on to the people and life he loves, but may have already lost. The compelling plot holds readers in suspense until the final, profound moment of resolution.