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What Lies Between Us


What Lies Between Us

One of my former coworkers read voraciously across many genres, but if there was one type of fiction she couldn’t get enough of, it was novels with an unreliable narrator. I feel certain that she would devour John Marrs’ new book, WHAT LIES BETWEEN US, because it has not one but two unreliable narrators.

Or does it?
Marrs sets up an intriguing premise from the beginning. Maggie is a senior citizen, literally a prisoner in her own home, where she has lived her entire adult life. She is chained in the soundproof attic, permitted to leave only a couple of times a week, when she joins her middle-aged daughter Nina for dinner and has the chance to take a bath.

"With its short chapters and numerous plot twists, WHAT LIES BETWEEN US is certain to surprise even the savviest thriller readers and propel them forward."

Nina seems to have her own reasons for imprisoning Maggie this way. As they begin to narrate events from their past in alternating chapters, readers might start to wonder if --- as cruel and unusual as Maggie’s punishment seems to be --- there might not be a tiny nugget of justification for it.
The two women recall episodes from Nina’s youth, when she went somewhat wild following the abrupt departure of her father from the family. She experienced two unplanned pregnancies and entered into a toxic relationship with a local rock star. Nina’s recollections of this time point to her mother becoming increasingly controlling of her life, trying to regulate her romantic choices and her reproductive health. This is a pattern that, in Nina’s telling, has continued to the present day, when Maggie meddled in Nina’s life once again --- this time shutting down her application to be a foster parent, thereby ruining her chances of ever parenting a child.
Without giving away too much, Maggie’s recollections of their intertwined history are radically different, and as more and more details come to life, readers will be unsure who they can really trust. As Maggie experiences a steadily worsening health crisis, other crises past and present also reach a breaking point, and let’s just put it this way: A relationship this poisonous is never going to have a happy ending. 
The clever play on words of Marrs’ title underscores the duplicity and outright treachery that have effectively destroyed Maggie and Nina’s relationship and made them virtual enemies to one another. With its short chapters and numerous plot twists, WHAT LIES BETWEEN US is certain to surprise even the savviest thriller readers and propel them forward. Marrs also creates a claustrophobic setting that serves to heighten the suspense. But the novel isn’t just a page-turner; it also offers sophisticated reflections on heredity, family secrets, and the ties that bind parents and children in even the most destructive relationships.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 29, 2020

What Lies Between Us
by John Marrs