In the Meantime
Kathryn, Starling, and Luke meet as young children in small-town America in 1931, and become fast friends. In this novel, we follow their intertwined stories for seventy years, until just one is alive and the other two exist only as memories.
Though Starling is so light-skinned many people assume he is white, he is in fact part African-American, which means he, Kathryn, and Luke must preserve their friendship in face of societal prejudice. As adolescents, Luke and Starling have a drunken sexual tryst. Afterward, Starling, a homosexual, for the first time reveals that he is in love with Luke. Luke, who is sexually repressed, recoils. Eventually the platonic friendship is repaired and the three seek new lives in New York City, where they will again confront racism, and will find unequal measures of success, love, and disappointment.
The story is told mainly through exposition, which is beautifully crafted but results in our viewing many events from a distance. There is little dialogue, and few fully developed scenes. History provides a backdrop: World War II, the execution of the Rosenbergs, and finally 9/11. The friends see Billie Holiday perform at her best, and then after drugs have shattered her. At one point, the action abruptly shifts to Hiroshima on the day the atom bomb is dropped, and we glimpse Japanese friends not very different from Kathryn, Starling, and Luke. The Japanese and American characters never meet. Later, we are told about friends who were sent to Auschwitz. At times the author strains too hard to hammer home a lesson about people’s common humanity. But this brief book conveys a poignant sense of the fleeting joys and sorrows of ordinary life.