“People like to talk about the man with two wives, but I rather like to think about the two wives with no husband,” Angel Khoury writes in her novel Between Tides. A piece rife with analytic introspection, historical easter eggs, and lines that cut to the bone – yet with imagery so plush that the book leaves a feathery place to land.
Between Tides is a love story in two parts: the other and the self. It is doomed, heart-wrenching, enchanting, and acts as both a gift and curse – but it is a love story all the same.
The story follows and is told from the perspective of Blythe Harding Lodge, an elderly woman living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, when the United States has just entered World War II. Blythe was the first wife of Gilead “Gil” Lodge, a hunter, ornithologist, taxidermist, hotel proprietor, and former keeper of a lifesaving station in Cape Cod. After their divorce, she lives out her days in their dilapidated home, saying: “I can spend minutes or hours, hands held out as though to the heat of a flame, aligning the light that filters through the brocade’s dappled rot with my one tracery of skin.”
One day, Blythe is visited by Gillian “Gilly” Lodge, the daughter of Gil and his second wife, Maud, who lives in the outer banks of North Carolina, at Cape Hatteras. Gilly is 18 and a volunteer for the Red Cross. She is scheduled to ship over to England soon after meeting Blythe, though laments (and laments often) her distaste at the regular, odd jobs of women volunteering, and wishes herself to be a nurse working on the front lines. Her reason for visiting Blythe is far less lamentable: she wants to know her father’s past, to know him as a person beyond her former childhood lens, and that is something Blythe can offer her. Blythe, in turn, not only gains a daughter, but the chance to work through years laden with untouched emotional turmoil.
The two women don’t get off to the best of starts, but as Blythe puts it, “I am now the curator of my own private natural history museum, where the public is never invited. And yet, I’ve let her in.”
Abundant with lines that sting and stick in your mind, Angel Khoury finds the heart of the reader quickly and enchants with that gushy-polite Southern charm; just enough to give a hint, a welcome familiarity to those who know it well, but not overwhelm those who don’t.
The piece verges into the dreamy, as it’s firmly set in Blythe’s perspective, following her thoughts, insecurities, and memories all, and often launches into Blythe’s own suppositions of events where she wasn’t present. As on par as they may be, confirmed often by Gilly, it does set Blythe up as the ultimate unreliable narrator, and offers a sense of disorientation.
However after these frequent dalliances into what might’ve happened, the story is grounded in the present, either by Gilly or by Khoury’s exquisite attention to detail, such as: “A flag no longer neatly folded, but ripped and burned and thrown in ashy tatters onto the stinking offal pile down at the wharf, sparking the gulls upward in a white spiral of tilt and scream, though not loud enough to muffle the cry retched out of a single tortured throat.”
There are instances in the story where the piece itself becomes too wrapped up in its own thought, and it must drag itself by the fingernails to progress. Along the same lines, the piece wanders back and forth between memories, and doesn’t necessarily follow flashbacks chronologically, a thing bewildering in and of itself, especially when sandwiched between Blythe’s imaginative “facts” and what the reader can take as truth of the moment.
That said, it’s easy to fall into the book’s rhythm, the roll and hum of the pace feels as natural as breathing, and the historical easter eggs offer eager surprises to those who would recognize them. Khoury follows events (big and little-known) faithfully as she mentions in the afterword, with a flourish of authorial gravitas. It is a story I personally dreaded the ending of, as both Gilly and Blythe’s characters are easy to like, though it was worth it to see Blythe finally fly free.
“She looks at me, brave eyes, unpitying, a knowing look that needs bear no kindness, only truth. I am seen, through and through.”
By Angel Khoury
Published August 10, 2021