Arsenal Pulp Press
Angie Abdou’s latest novel addresses the weighty issues of mental illness, intimacy, and privilege with wit and sensitivity. Vero and Ligaya are women from very different backgrounds. Vero is a working mother who suffers from depression. She’s reached the end of her tether when it comes to balancing the demands of family and work. At the suggestion of her husband, Shane, Vero hires Ligaya, a Filipina nanny, hoping it will ease some of the anxiety that plagues her. Ligaya is fresh out of an unsatisfactory nannying job, and wants only to make enough money to reunite with her own family.
A shared narration opens a window into Vero’s high-strung search for perfection and delves beneath the calm demeanor that Ligaya projects to hide her true feelings, and a secret that, if exposed, could have her on the first flight back to the Philippines. The strained relationship between the two women raises important questions about the inevitable power imbalance between well-off women who can afford to pay for help, and the women who must sacrifice everything—family, home, and love—in the hopes of securing a better life for those left behind. Vero, obsessed with Ligaya’s role both in the family and in the community, overcompensates for her innate privilege by going so far as treating Ligaya as a sister or a friend. Ligaya, well-aware of her status in the eyes of society, holds herself aloof.
While Ligaya quietly and competently takes charge of the family, Vero and her husband Shane slide into a morass of misunderstanding and miscommunication that threatens to destroy their marriage. Vero resents Shane’s inability to grasp her struggles with depression. In attempt to fix her marriage, Vero agrees, with reluctance, to attend a tropical island sex retreat with Shane to try and reconnect with him. The trip doesn’t turn out as Vero and Shane expect – by the time they return home, Vero’s relationship with Shane is just more weight for her to bear.
One of Abdou’s strengths is writing physicality, and she doesn’t disappoint with Between. As in her other novels, The Bone Cage and The Canterbury Trail, the physical dovetails with the story’s thematic pursuits. Vivid descriptions of anxiety attacks, challenging hot yoga poses, and later, Vero’s experiences at the sex retreat, mirror Vero’s obsession with gaining any kind of control, even if only over her body.
Abdou, known for pushing her characters to their limits, gives no quarter in Between. Eventually, Vero and Ligaya’s efforts to keep control fail in a spectacular collision, and the women are forced to face their separate, difficult truths in order to move forward.
Between is a challenging, enjoyable read that exposes secret prejudices, judgments and privilege that usually remain hidden, or at least masked, in today’s society.
Kim McCullough is a writer and teacher from Calgary, AB. Her first novel Clearwater (Coteau Books, 2013) is nominated for a High Plains Award. She is the 2013 recipient of the Jon Whyte Essay Prize, and recently completed her MFA at UBC. Find her at www.kimmccullough.ca or on Twitter: @ferniebound.