The central character of Carla Guelfenbein’s In the Distance with You is in a coma from the first page of the book and yet, she is the sun the other characters orbit. Her name is Vera Sigall, a famed Chilean literary icon with a worldwide cult following. She is loosely based on the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.
Orbiting Vera is her neighbor and good friend Daniel, an architect who wants to launch a restaurant, Emilia, a literary student who has focused her research on Vera, and Horacio, the famed poet and sometimes mentor to Emilia who had a long-ago affair with Vera. The narrative shifts from one to the other, slowly revealing their secrets and Vera’s.
In the Distance with You is a languid book for what is described as a literary thriller. Daniel presents the mystery. Was Vera pushed down the stairs or was her fall just an unlucky accident. His narrative includes a detective who must surely think if anyone is guilty, it’s Daniel. He hunts for clues and questions people. There is no sense of risk or peril to justify calling it a thriller in this storyline. But then there is Emilia’s research and her developing theory about how Vera and Horacio’s work reflect each other. Perhaps the mystery is not the secret of who pushed Vera but whom Vera pushed. There are many secrets beautifully foreshadowed that are all revealed slowly and subtly. Our author is drawing back curtains more than smashing down doors.
I enjoyed In the Distance with You though I think calling it a thriller does it an injustice by creating expectations it has no intention of fulfilling. The literary mystery is far more interesting and compelling than the question of Vera’s fall which sometimes seemed more a need of Daniel’s to distract his attention from his wife and failing message.
I like the characters, all of them. These are interesting and complex people. Emilia is a bit of a fragile flower, but she finally begins to find herself now she is freed from a stultifying childhood entanglement. There is a scene where she explores her awakening body that is quite erotic.
I like that Guilfenbein held back her own lyricism in the narrative so that when she wrote sections by Vera and Horacio, there was a real change in style. That is hard to do seamlessly and authentically and she succeeds beautifully. This book is enjoyable, well-written, and not one bit suspenseful.
The title is taken from this song from the time of Vera and Horacio’s romance.
I received an e-galley of In the Distance with You from the publisher through Edelweiss.
- In the Distance with You at Other Press and Penguin Random House
- Carla Geulfenbein at The Book Reporter