The Between Years: A Novel
Derek Clendening

Naked Snake Press
Trade Paper, 268 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

The tragedy of losing a child is devastating. The depth of feeling should hit on many levels. Yet, in The Between Years, the emotion is muted. The emphasis in the novel is on a dysfunctional marriage; the death of an infant is a catalyst for facing painful truths. The book is a study of a married couple on different pages in terms of their interaction with each other. When the husband starts seeing his deceased infant son, at various later stages of the kid’s life, there is more than a ghost to deal with: The haunting of the unsaid, of the unfinished, also plagues. Horror elements emphasize domestic drama, rather than the feasibility of supernatural visitations. And author Derek Clendening’s examination of marital upheaval isn’t as well drawn as it might have been.

The tale of parents Randy and Carol Fuller is told in two forms: Carol’s in the first person, and Randy’s by an omniscient narrator. Their respective points of view are slightly skewed in Carol’s favor, since she speaks directly and personally to the reader. This, however, simultaneously makes her narrative more subjective; and gives it greater cause for scrutiny. She is most mercurial in nature; alternating from supposed contentment (or maybe, resignation) throughout the marriage, then complaining about her spouse’s moods and desire to dominate (in and out of the bedroom.) Such attempts at gaining sympathy fail because of seemingly unmotivated inconsistencies of feeling: “Long story short, life consisted of going to work, coming home, eating, and sleeping. Lather, rinse, repeat.” There is an incongruity and lack of conviction in her statements.

Randy also appears to react randomly. Perceived as the wholesome and dependable good guy, he forces Carol (or so she says) into unprotected sex for the sake of procreation. This is in contrast to their earlier conception of Kenny, the dead child. With Kenny, Carol stopped taking the pill without telling her husband, who didn’t feel ready for parenthood. In a nasty quid pro quo, Randy belatedly (and possibly, unknowingly) retaliates: He hides Carol’s birth control pills, and halts her attempts to make him wear a condom. She thinks he’s a prick, but he views himself as finally taking command. The unhealthy intercourse leads to a change in residence for Randy. He moves into the former home of his grandparents; an abode unchanged by time. While there, he sees Kenny, who is not a happy camper.

Resentful toward his dad, for a multitude of reasons, Kenny haunts Randy with guilt. Dad gets to see the incremental aging of his son; complete with sullen posturing, and unrepentant anger. By the time Kenny appears as a man, rampant residual hostility permeates and poisons the environment. He demands recognition and change.

Derek Clendening has a great premise for his book. The premise, however, doesn’t live up to its promise. Part of it is due to less than sympathetic characters; one can feel the pain of their bereavement, but the disintegration of the union lacks focus and clarity. Multiple misspellings combine with poor proof reading, resulting in senseless sentences. This indicates a certain carelessness of thought and execution. In what is perhaps the most glaring example of not keeping a character in character, Carol, who teaches English, makes a frequent grammatical mistake: “Through it all, I’ve fought to maintain perspective because, no matter what transpired between Randy and I, he is the most wonderful father in the world.” It should be “Randy and me,” and this incorrect usage occurs several other times in the tale. It can be regarded as a minor complaint – except when trying to portray an English teacher.

The Between Years is, indeed, a between novel: It touches upon tender topics, and employs an interesting device to address loss and inadequacies in relationships. In implementation, though, the yarn misses its emotional mark. A cursory quality prevails, softening the impact of a potentially powerful story.

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