NO ONE HAD warned
Hilton about the undertow, and he wouldn't have understood if they had,
but Nana did tell him he could only go in the water if he didn't go too
far; this would have been enough if Hilton had minded like he should have.
Nana, who was helping the ladies set up picnic tables, pointed to the
orange buoy floating out in the water and said he could only go halfway
there. And Hilton said, "Yes, Nana," and ran splashing into the
water knowing that he would go exactly where he wanted because in the
water he would be free.
He swam easily past
the midway point to the buoy, and he could see from here that it was
cracked and the glowing paint was old. He wanted to get a closer look at
it, maybe grab it and tread water and gaze back at all those brown bodies
on the sand. And it was here that he met up with the undertow
It was friendly at
first. He felt as though the water had closed a grip around his tiny
kicking legs and dunked him beneath the surface like a doughnut, then spat
him back up a few feet from where he started. Hilton coughed and smiled,
splashing with his arms, He didn't know the water could do that by itself.
It was like taking a ride.
The buoy was now
farther than it was before the ocean played with him. It was off to his
left now when it had been straight ahead. As Hilton wanted to see if he
could feel those swirling currents beneath him again, he heard splinters
of Nana's voice in the wind calling from the beach: "Hilton, you get
back here, boy! You hear me? Get back here."
So the ocean was
not free after all, Hilton realized. He had better do as he was told, or
he wouldn't get any coconut cake or peach cobbler, if it wasn't too late
for that already. He began sure strokes back toward the shore.
The current still
wanted to play, and this time it was angry Hilton was trying to leave so
soon. He felt the cold grip seize his waist and hold his legs still. He
was so startled he gasped a big breath of air; just in time to be plunged
into the big belly of the ocean, tumbled upside down and then up again,
with water pounding all around his ears in a roar...
He didn't hear Nana
shout out from where she stood at the shore, but he'd hear the story told
many times later. There was no lifeguard that day, but there was plenty of
Kelly and James men who followed Nana, who stripped herself of her dress
and ran into the water. The men followed the old woman into the sea.
Hilton felt he
couldn't hold his breath anymore, and the water mocked him all around. It
filled his ears, his nose, and finally his mouth, and his muscles began to
fail him. It was then, just he believed his entire fifty-pound body would
fill with water, that he felt an arm around his waist. He fought the arm
at first, thinking it was another current, but the grip was firm and
pulled him up, up, up, until he could see light and Nana's weary,
determined face. That was all he saw, because he went limp then.
He would hear the
rest from the others who told him in gentle ways about Chariots to the
Everlasting and that sort of thing. One of the James men had been swimming
closely behind Nana, and she passed Hilton to his arms. Then she simply
stopped swimming, they said. Said maybe, she just gave out. Nana's head
began to sink below the water, and just as one of the Kelly men reached to
try to take her arm, the current she'd pulled Hilton from took her
instead. The man carrying Hilton could only swim against it with all his
might toward the shore. Many people almost drowned that day.
senses came back to him and he was lying on the beach, caked in gritty
sand, all that was left of Nana was her good flowered dress, damp and
crumpled at the water's edge.
So what the gifted
old folks, the seers, often say is true:
Sometimes the dead
novel, part detective story and part speculative fiction, The Between is a
mix of genres. Yet it is no hybrid. It is a finely-honed work that engages
and frequently surprises.
– The New York Times
compelling imagery pulls the reader into the abyss [with her main
character], as the line's between reality and vision blur into
inconsequence. Due masterfully maintains the suspense as [his] world tips
into chaos, all the while delineating her characters with a psychological
realism that makes
the unbelievable credible.
– The Washington Post Book World
written, suspenseful story...Due's multicultural treatment of mortality
and planes of Existence is as fresh and thought-provoking as it is
frightening and satisfying.
[The Between] is
an extraordinary work of humane imagination...Call it magic realism with
soul. The closest compatriot of The Between is Toni Morrison's Beloved.
Ms. Due has
written a haunting first novel that layers the world that is with worlds
that might be. Elements of suspense, Ghanaian folk legend, ghost tales,
and a family love story are braided into a suspenseful rope that pulls one
readily along...the author holds one's attention with a sure style and
fast-moving plot. I read its 271 pages straight through in one
sitting...The Between frightens us because we believe, from the very
beginning, that this can happen. It is a notable debut by an author who is
worth hearing from again.
...a mix of the
kind of ghost stories my Southern Grandfather used to tell, New Age
spirituality and just enough Stephen-King-like suspense to make it an
this book works on many levels: as a chilling excursion into the
paranormal, as a reflection on the challenges facing upper middle class
black families, and as a philosophical examination of the very nature of
reality...The Between is a powerful debut.
– Southern Book Trade
largely in the black and Hispanic communities of Florida's Dade County,
Due's first novel, a skillful blend of horror and the supernatural, poses
questions about life and identity that transcend racial
– Publishers Weekly.
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What do you believe the title of this
novel refers to?
As described in the prologue, what
kind of powers, if any, do you believe Nana had? Did she pass
them on to Hilton?
Which partner was more to blame for
the history of marital problems between Hilton and Dede?
What are Hilton’s dreams trying to
tell him? Do you believe he could remember his dreams if he
Discuss Charles Ray Goode. What
forces do you think are using him as an agent to try to destroy
Hilton and his family? Are those forces “evil,” or are
they simply trying to correct the natural order?
Discuss Hilton’s sexual tryst with
Danitra. Did it really happen? Does infidelity “count”
if it takes place in an alternate universe?
What is your understanding of the “doorways”
in this novel? Do you believe that there can be more than one
plane of reality?
How is Hilton able to triumph over
his fear of death? Does this novel make the concept of
death seem more frightening or less frightening?
Do you believe Hilton really died at
the end of this novel? If not, how would you explain what
What do you think the future will be
like for Kaya and Jamil, Hilton’s children?
How might you have written a
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