Breaking New Ground: Between Heaven and Here

Erin Berman

Between Heaven and HereIn Between Heaven and Here, the final installment of Susan Straight’s trilogy set in the fictional Rio Seco, California, the mysterious murder of a prostitute named Glorette Picard kicks off a soulful and unexpected narrative. Moments after Glorette is murdered, her longtime admirer, Sidney, comes across her body in a shopping cart in an alleyway. In a flood of beautiful images, Sidney sees that her “eyes were open…her face…upturned, her lips parted like she was having trouble breathing, and her neck curved long and golden,” and decides that he can’t just leave her there. His choice to bring the corpse back to her father’s home both sheds light on the world in which the community lives—fearful of police for their wrath or indifference—and propels the reader into the repercussions of his choice. 

Every chapter of the novel introduces the reader to a new character, each of whom is connected to Glorette in some way. All of the voices are remarkably distinct, in both their diction and Straight’s choice of narrative style, which ranges from first to third person. What comes as most surprising is that all of the characters are developed in depth: There is Glorette’s uncle Enrique, who has killed before and becomes fixated on avenging her death. Then there is a crew of laborers who encounter an adolescent prostitute who has been abused—giving us a glimpse at what life may have been like for Glorette. Glorette’s father Gustave is overwhelmed with grief while her former boyfriend, Chess, has remained devoted to her despite her being a prostitute.

Perhaps among the most compelling voices is Glorette’s young son, Victor, who memorizes SAT vocabulary words to escape from the crack dealers and customers his mother brings home. Through Victor’s eyes we begin to see the person Glorette was: someone who would do anything for the two loves in her life—crack and her son. As the scene of her death unfolds, it is revealed she died just after smoking crack, but with a bag of Ramen noodles to bring home to her son for dinner. Victor’s path to a successful future is thwarted countless times as a result of his mother’s occupation and drug use, yet he never stops loving her.

Indeed, love and loyalty are the constant threads between characters. Throughout the novel, Straight demonstrates her range as a writer by hurling dialects, drugs, murderers and thugs into a community where there exist moments of love, compassion and hope. Although the novel tackles important social and political issues of race, poverty, education and immigration, she navigates around clichés with her multi-tonal masterpiece. Her refusal to suggest her murderous characters are villains or cast her compassionate ones as heroes allows each character’s story to resonate powerfully with the reader. What arises is a portrait of the members of the community who try to make the lives of the next generation better. In this way of using a myriad of voices that all ring true, the novel ends on a beautiful note that is uplifting despite its sadness. And, what is perhaps most inspiring, is Straight's ability to give voices to those that live on the margins of society and allow their stories to be heard.


Between Heaven and Here
By Susan Straight
McSweeney's (September 12, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-1936365753

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