Review: 'This is Between Us' by Kevin Sampsell

March 4, 2014
Reviewed by Anna Stusser
This is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell
This is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell is an articulate and deliciously written novel which maps a relationship over the span of five years. Sampsell’s narrator addresses every tiny adorable anecdote with “you” as if the whole book is one long love letter. This creates an intimate relationship between reader and story; I felt included in all of the action, mishaps and triumphs.

The book dissects several misconceptions regarding long-term relationships. Myth number 1: When you have kids, you can no longer go out and have fun. Throughout the novel, the narrator goes out to bars with and without his partner without sacrificing time with his children. His son, Vince, and his stepdaughter, Maxine, go on tons of adventures with the narrator: bike rides, visits to the pumpkin patch … they even play robots with a ridiculous amount of tin foil. The kids are never seen as ‘burdens’ or obstacles that prevent the narrator and his partner from having a good time. The narrator’s children invite intimacy rather than standing in its way.

This is Between Us confirms that difficult relationships can work out. The lovers take some time apart but, even then, it is clear that the narrator is still enchanted with his beloved. During the separation, he finds himself searching for aspects of her in the different women he dates. While dating a woman in her early twenties, the narrator thinks “Maybe she could just be a younger version of you.” When the narrator asks the young lady to introduce him to a new activity or hobby, she has no answer. At that moment, he understands that the relationship cannot last. Returning to his true love he acknowledges that he “did not have to teach” her anything because she was “already taught and prepared.” He does not feel the need to fill her up with pieces of himself. Already a strong, quirky, intelligent person, he recognizes that she is a woman that does not need to be remade.

While on the topic of influence, I often thought of Lydia Davis when I was reading This is Between Us. Sampsell’s detailed prose is astoundingly compact and descriptive. Each small bite of prose leaves you hungry to jump to the next page. The book is not organized into traditional chapters; rather it is separated into years. Each year is filled with the small vignettes of the narrator’s memory. Sometimes I felt as if I were spying on him, especially when I was reading things I did not necessarily want to know about.

Most of those “TMI” scenes involved Daniel, the brother of the narrator’s lover. Have you ever watched a movie and covered your eyes during a horror scene, leaving a tiny space between your fingers so that you could still see the action? That is what reading about Daniel was like for me. Daniel is mentioned and something sexually inappropriate occurs. He has a pattern of hitting on the boyfriends of his sister and the narrator is no exception.

Aside from Daniel, the rest of the characters in the book are wonderful. I delayed finishing the book because I did not want to stop looking into the lives of the characters I had grown so attached to. But as hard as it was to let go of the characters in This is Between Us, I was grateful for the final pages where Sampsell’s imagery flickered like the final frames of a film reel before the theater fades to black. Read This is Between Us and enjoy an honest, imperfect romantic love story penned with luminous authority.

Anna Stusser
Anna Stusser’s work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Hamilton Stone Review, Bluestockings, The Siren and Necessary Fiction. She is an Assistant Editor and Book Club Coordinator for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. In 2013, she won the National Blueberry Month Photography Contest from Little Brown and Co on Instagram. Follow her on twitter: @AnnaStusser.

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