Porter’s In Between Days
ruminates on the nature and meaning of love and how love is sometimes an anthropological puzzle needing to be solved. Love in Porter’s universe makes life worthwhile, embodying a truth fixed in the heart while reinforcing the concept of family structure and relationships.
In contemporary Houston, Porter’s characters make wrong turns and bad decisions, sometimes appearing to be lost in the city they’ve lived in all their lives.
Real and allegorical storm clouds rise to form a giant mass in the life of prominent city architect Elson Harding, his wife, Cadence, and their two grown children, Richard and Chloe. The novel begins
with Richard, a promising poet, on his way to pick up his sister. The two haven’t seen each other since Chloe left to study at a prestigious New England liberal arts college.
Loner Richard is content with his own thoughts and his books, though kindly Dr.
Michelson encourages his career. The thought of leaving
Houston utterly terrifies him.
Chloe is just gratified to love Raja, a kindly, taciturn Indian boy who in a brutal moment of violence made a terrible mistake. As Chloe shares her news with her old school friend Simone, she tries
her best to steer away from Raja and the reason why she’s back in
Houston in the middle of the term. A serious incident has invoked allegations of assault, but Chloe’s own involvement and complicity in it is shrouded in haze of gauzy shame.
In Houston's landscape of neon-lit supermarkets and giant swaying palm trees, the tropical paradise of Chloe’s youth fades back into view. For weeks she’s been living only in the moment, not knowing what might happen from one minute to the next. Porter’s focus here is less on the architecture of the tragedy that embroils Chloe and Raja than on the world in which it occurs.
Speaking volumes about how families fall apart and then are healed, the story spins into terrible sorrow then on to a more resilient tone. It only takes one twist for Chloe to push her family to its knees, her missteps resonating to the point of destruction within their lives.
Elson and Cadence must deal with their own midlife challenges in a marriage that has gone sour, tainted with anger and bitterness. Cadence embraces the circuitous territory of life away from Elson,
who can feel the neat walls of his world collapsing when he's confronted by his new girlfriend, Lorna, in a surreptitious act of duplicity.
This is what desperate circumstances can do to a person: it clouds their judgment
so far that even the seediest character can seem like a savior.
Porter tackles modern middle-class American life, its madness, obsession, and selfishness, the "in-between days" in the range of dysfunction. Chloe
feels regret that she can never say goodbye; Raja replaces his passivity with new anger and hatred; Richard's mind races, the world
all around him in a silent blur; Cadence, joint pressed to her lips, finally feels the sudden weight of her own admonitions; and Elson tells himself that he’s "catching a break," a second chance at life by leaving behind his wife of twenty-five years, whom he sees as “too old and too needy, too intense.” These internal digressions add power to the novel and connect the characters to each other like the delicate threads of a web.
Despite the density of the story, Porter’s poetic grip on his narrative never
falters as he lays bare the emotional scars and hopes of all four Hardings. From the costly days of
Houston's attrition and anger, Porter explores the damage we inflict on ourselves and on each other, and the strength it takes to finally heal.