Meet Me in the In-Be­tween

320 pages by Bella Pollen, Grove Press,

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - by Bella Pollen

Bella Pollen, the mid­dle of three chil­dren, craved her par­ents’ at­ten­tion. She looked for in­ter­est­ing facts and amus­ing anec­dotes with which to re­gale them — and court­ing dan­ger was part of her reper­toire. Once, when she was ten years old, she or­ches­trated a ride home from Cen­tral Park with a strange man in or­der to scare them and get her sis­ter, who had left her there alone, in trou­ble. She was a lit­tle Bri­tish girl liv­ing an elite life in the big city; her father was an ex­ec­u­tive at an auc­tion house, her mother an ed­u­ca­tor. When they got di­vorced and moved the fam­ily back to Eng­land, Pollen’s world came apart. This hind­sight rev­e­la­tion is the core trauma of her mem­oir, Meet Me in

the In-Be­tween, which Pollen was prompted to write when, in her mid­dle age, she be­gan hav­ing night­time vis­i­ta­tions from an in­cubus — a shad­owy, ethe­real be­ing she de­scribes as a sex ghost made of metal fil­ings.

From the be­gin­ning, Pollen rev­els in self-ab­sorp­tion that should be off-putting, but her clever way with words is so self-dep­re­cat­ing that she is im­me­di­ately lik­able, if not par­tic­u­larly re­lat­able. “The only op­pres­sive regime my par­ents had fled was mar­riage, and though the grace with which they han­dled their sep­a­ra­tion was matched by the diplo­macy of their sub­se­quent di­vorce, a blood­less coup is still a coup, and we three chil­dren had been ex­iled to English board­ing schools,” she writes. She starts a fash­ion busi­ness at age eigh­teen and mar­ries an Ital­ian man with a Mafia-con­nected fam­ily a few years later. She thrills to the fear she feels for her father-in-law, which seems to be the main rea­son she ap­pre­ci­ates her mar­riage. It ends soon enough. Though she pro­fesses to love her chil­dren (she even­tu­ally has four), they are an af­ter­thought when it comes to look­ing at her life — and they con­tinue to be so, in ways Pollen be­comes in­creas­ingly aware of but no less dis­tanced from as the book goes on.

Meet Me in the In-Be­tween is long on wit and charm yet short on the sort of child­hood chaos that of­ten drives mem­oirs, es­pe­cially given the car­nal de­mon she in­tro­duces in its first pages. Pollen in­cludes a few il­lus­trated pas­sages that sum­ma­rize some of the ma­jor turn­ing points in the story, but these stabs at ele­ments of graphic mem­oir do not add much to the nar­ra­tive other than some rest­ing beats. Af­ter her first mar­riage ends, the story cen­ters on Pollen’s wan­der­lust, her love for the Amer­i­can Southwest, and a grow­ing at­trac­tion to risky sit­u­a­tions. She goes to a movie mati­nee in­stead of the hos­pi­tal when la­bor be­gins dur­ing one of her preg­nan­cies; she fan­cies her­self a gonzo jour­nal­ist and makes plans to cross the Sono­ran Desert from Mex­ico to the United States on foot in or­der to get a first­hand im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pollen’s mem­oir is pop­u­lated by vivid sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, many of whom hail from the south­ern Colorado vil­lage where she and her sec­ond hus­band — who we do not get to know — build a home out of re­claimed barn ma­te­ri­als. Pollen has a way with caus­tic de­scrip­tion that evinces a love for the evoca­tive qual­i­ties of lan­guage, if not for peo­ple. “Over the next hour, Pamela laid claim to a tough life, and there was no question that it showed in her slate-coloured teeth and mot­tled gums,” she writes of a woman she hires to clean the house and look af­ter the chil­dren. “I swear this woman had wrin­kles in places I’d never seen be­fore. She al­luded cheer­fully to half­way houses, a daugh­ter long since given up for adop­tion, and an old flame liv­ing in a Detroit pen­i­ten­tiary whom she liked to visit from time to time.”

Just as Pollen’s amus­ingly hol­low cyn­i­cism be­gins to slide into crim­i­nal mean­ness, she re­al­izes — for the first but not the last time — that she might not be a very good per­son. She has had pretty typ­i­cal ups and downs in her life. Though not ev­ery­thing has been sim­ple or easy, pe­ri­od­i­cally and in ret­ro­spect she un­der­stands that she has enor­mous priv­i­lege — in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, white skin, good looks, and a will­ing­ness to al­ways use her fem­i­nin­ity to her ad­van­tage. She is some­times shocked by her own tun­nel vi­sion, her knee-jerk as­sump­tions about other peo­ple’s lives, and her de­sire to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the worlds of peo­ple she does not gen­uinely care about. But even when there is come­up­pance, the con­se­quences of her ac­tions still af­fect oth­ers more than they do her, ren­der­ing her epipha­nies rather mi­nor. Pollen’s in­sight into the fact that other peo­ple suf­fer, and that her ac­tions can af­fect them, skate along a sur­face so icy-hard and glit­ter­ing that, in the right light, it might be mis­taken for depth.

— Jen­nifer Levin

Bella Pollen reads from “Meet Me in the In-Be­tween” at 6 p.m. on Fri­day, June 16, at Col­lected Works Book­store (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226).

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