Book Review: The Space Between the Trees, by Katie Williams

In every college-level writing class I’ve taken, the professors have never waited for the second meeting to announce that fiction is a bunch of lies. I have also watched my share of TV specials about the stories of the Old Testament, in which most all the rabbis interviewed say that there is a difference between fact and truth. Long arguments about whether Moses led his people through the Red Sea or the Sea of Reeds are irrelevant when it comes to truth. Truth is the heart from which meaning beats.

Katie Williams’s novel, The Space Between The Trees, is told through the eyes of a teenage liar. Evie may not be a compulsive liar per se, or one psychologically divorced from fact-based reality, but lies nevertheless come out of Evie’s mouth as loose and easy as an exhale. Some are quick, one-line knee-jerks, as in the answering of a question. I was provoked to yell at the plucky, young heroine on two occasions when she demonstrated how she can lie herself into a corner with a single sentence. Some of her lies are longer: weaving the story of a social life to protect her mother from worry, or inventing episodes fraternization with a local hottie to prick the ears of a few of her peers.

Evie has undeniable expertise telling stories; applying character traits and sensory details from life to her untamed imagination. Since stories give meaning and pump life into truth, Evie, then, is in the right place at the right time when she witnesses the kind of thing that begs for truth. On a Sunday morning, Evie watched a pair of ambulance workers carry a body bag on a stretcher from the woods that border the otherwise quiet neighborhood where she delivers newspapers. The body was once that of fellow Chippewa High student Elizabeth “Zabet” McCabe, who was beaten to death the night before.

The stories Evie tells after Zabet’s murder will sound like truth to some, and just plain lies to others. An unspoken, mutual desire for meaning draws Evie together with the rebellious, cigarette-smoking best friend of the deceased, Hadley Smith. Each one has something the other wants; Evie has sensory details about Zabet’s death, and Hadley about Zabet’s life.

If you want to read about the adventures of an unlikely pair of teenage girls and how meaning-makers respond to untimely deaths, The Space Between The Trees is a solid investment of your time and money. The Kindle version is, of course, profoundly less expensive than the hardcover, however I would advocate purchasing the latter for the simple reason that it is one awesome cover. Williams herself said that when she first saw it, she genuinely thought, “I hope readers judge my book by its cover. I couldn’t believe how different it was, how gorgeous, how evocative.”

As far as what’s between the covers goes, Williams’s choice of adjectives hit the nail on the head. Space is 274 pages of “gorgeous and evocative” descriptive language. Evie may be an awkward character, but the narration is beautiful. If you’re anything like me, you might enjoy the unique and inventive metaphors, too, if you wake up on the right side of the bed…

Yes, the language overall never stops being beautiful. But the volume of metaphors is the worst I could drum up about the book. There’s nothing wrong with the word “like,” and there’s nothing wrong with the way it was used. It’s just the sheer volume. If you’re sleep deprived and/or your girlfriend just left you,* the excess of “likes” will be the first thing to grate your nerves. The same thing happened in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (also a good investment of your time and money!), only, in the case of Elephants, it was to a greater degree.

* Please don’t use the “girlfriend just left you” example to make inferences about my personal life. It was just an example. Or, for the purposes of this post, I’ll call it a lie.

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