In Between Dreams by Iman Verjee
Iman Verjee gets full points for bravery. She chooses to tackle an extraordinarily difficult – if not impossible – topic for her debut novel: a romantic and physical affair between a young teenage girl and her father. Once this topic is revealed in the book’s opening chapters (of course, it’s nowhere to be found on the jacket copy), I felt an immediate
sense of revulsion – but also intrigue, to see how the author would pull it off. So I found the book oddly compelling and read it very quickly.
It’s a brave book. Verjee’s topic is so taboo, and I imagine that in writing she aimed to begin a public discourse – so that those who had similar experiences, being abused as children by their parents, might be able to come forward without shame, to speak about what they silently endured. Which is a worthy and important goal.
Unfortunately, I found that the execution of the book was lacking. I was hoping for some serious psychological insight from the daughter’s perspective in particular, but instead felt curiously removed from the story. Verjee takes care to present both perspectives, creating a father character who we almost feel pity for, even as we (the audience) abhor his actions. But we’re held at arms length from James and from his daughter, Frances.
I most noticed the book’s lack of polish in its dialogue, which often falls flat. A sample conversation, from when France’s biological mother is leaving James:
She paused and he saw a glimmer of something at the edges of her eyes but it went away just as quickly. “I owe it to myself to go and try out for this part. ‘I’m still young – I have my whole life ahead of me.’ When that explanation didn’t suffice, she continued, ‘I just need some [sic] to sort things out, to get myself back to normal, then I’ll come back and we can figure this all out.’ But they both knew that once she walked out of the door, she was never coming back. ‘Besides, she’s your daughter too’.
‘So you’re just going to run off? Become an actress?’ He had to laugh. ‘You know that’s not going to happen. Especially with the way you look like right now.’
In short: the characters over explain, all speak in the same tone, and there’s little subtlety. Similarly, I found France’s development as the book progressed lacking. There is a fantastic moment where she chooses not to act on a crush she feels on a man at her boarding school who has a wife and family of his own, to not wreck it, in some sort of wonderfully subtly recognition of what appropriate boundaries are and that she might not actually know and how her actions could destroy others. I wanted more of that.
I’m afraid this book has a very small audience. It’s subject matter will disqualify it from many readers automatically, I think, and those that are willing to read about a father and daughter and their coercive physical relationship need it to be a truly remarkable book in order to make that journey worth it. Or I did, at least. And while I found it to be compelling, I didn’t find it to be remarkable. I was asking a lot of it, I know, but I also think that the subject matter demands a lot.
Reviewed by Kelsey Attard