The Wednesday Review: What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

Every so often, the best word to describe a book is gorgeous. The setting, the language, the way the story unfolds, even the cover. I love it when the book inside matches the cover.

What Lies Between Us was an unexpected book. The cover caught my eye, and the blurb held my interest. Then the most amazing thing happened.

The story was good.

You’re probably laughing. That’s fine. But I’ve been in such a literary fiction slump for…oh, years now, and this book was the reminder I needed to not give up on the genre.

Our narrator takes us through her childhood outside Kandy. Her father comes from money; her mother is by turns loving and attentive and cruel and bitter. Her outwardly happy childhood hides a horrific secret, one that shames her into silence. Tragedy forces her to flee with her mother to the US. While she slowly adapts to her surroundings, her nightmares continue, creating a shaky foundation that grows weaker and weaker the older she gets. The more she tries to fit in, the more paranoid she becomes, until her grasp on reality slips, resulting in an unforgivable act that burns her new life to the ground.

The opening chapters are incredibly vivid pictures of life in Sri Lanka. It’s all sultry warmth and rain, bright, glossy flowers and brilliant green grass. Her life seems to be a privileged one; they live in her father’s family home on sprawling grounds. When the rains comes, you can feel it beading on your skin; when the power goes out, the humidity is thick enough to touch. It’s here that Nayomi Munaweera starts to build her story. Confusion starts to creep in, fear not far behind. Habits change and people ask uncomfortable questions.

When the action shifts to mid-80’s San Fransisco, the scene is less vibrant. But what’s lost in potency is made up for in the way the story really opens up. Safe from the demons on her heels, she becomes more and more American, and this ultimately her undoing. We don’t know her name — she never tells us — but the sense that she doesn’t belong never fades. Her mother treats Americans as the foreigners, but she knows the score. They’re the foreign ones, and there’s always the danger of replacement.

The farther I read, the faster I wanted to go, because I swore I knew what was going to happen, and it filled me with dread. The best kind of dread. I love that feeling, when you want to reach into the pages and shake the characters and say “no, no, please don’t!” and they won’t listen.

A slow-building tragedy that slips by in that hazy dream-like state, I’m so glad I read What Lies Between Us.

Copy provided by the publisher.

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