In her third novel, Donna Milner shows how the inability to communicate after a tragedy drives a couple further apart. Following a terrible loss, Ian and Julie O’Dale move to an isolated ranch on a lake in B.C.’s Chilcotin region to fulfill Ian’s dream of living in the country. But their marriage is already faltering, and Julie is unsure of the future. Grief paralyzes her, and emotional distress consumes her days.
Ian strikes up a friendship with the mysterious Virgil Blue, a hard-working recluse who lives in an old cabin on the property. As the novel unfolds, Blue’s story is revealed, though the narrative is filtered mainly through Julie’s consciousness. Milner keeps the character count relatively small, which is fitting given the remote setting and the O’Dales’ self-imposed seclusion.
The author effectively describes the beauty of the Chilcotin, and explores some weighty issues: death, grief, marriage, infidelity, family, parenthood, poverty, prejudice, ethnicity, and culture are all important in the novel. In particular, the relationship between parents and children is critical, and Milner’s characters, for the most part, do their best to survive against some powerful odds. But a significant suspension of disbelief is required to accept one particular first-person narrative thread, and the excursions into native culture seem forced. Milner tries to create vibrant native characters, but they tend to appear as noble and misunderstood victims.
Too often it feels like the novel is being driven by themes and lessons, instead of something more organic. And the pacing doesn’t quite work; by the time the nature of the tragedy is revealed, the foreshadowing has become intrusive. Somewhere In-Between tackles big topics, and while not entirely successful, it is to be commended for its keen understanding of human nature in the wake of adversity.