(from Prairie Journal issue 56, review by Annie Vigna)
Review of And Me Among Them by Kristen den Hartog (Freehand Books, 2011) 203 pp. ISNB 978-1-55481-054-3 $21.95.
Almost five feet tall when she starts school, Ruth towers above the other children.
Imagine being Ruth; imagine being the other children; Ruth’s parents. What to do? The doctor says everything seems normal. Should we get a second opinion? If only . . . and then, regrets.
Kristen den Hartog gives her narrator an omniscient point of view which enables her to not only soar above everyone else, but to know intuitively how her bigness affects everyone around her. Moreover, she is also able to see the past—her mother’s past, her father’s past; therefore able to reveal the innermost feelings and vulnerabilities of her parents, Elspeth and James.
From the womb of Elspeth, the story unfolds chronologically, piece by piece, inch by inch, focusing on the minutiae.
I had tunnel vision, but an eye for detail. In fact, I suppose this has always been true of me: I can hardly pull my eyes from the infinitesimal details to take in the broader picture, so vast and vague that I don’t know what to make of it.
The author embellishes her fiction with references to real people and characters from pop culture “who’d grown to great heights”; ergo, the title “and me among them”. She has skillfully interwoven fact with fiction and recognizable fictitious characters to produce a credible story of Ruth whose most ardent wish is to belong, to have a friend to love, and to be loved, to be accepted. And she finds this special person, Suzy, who moves into the house next door. Witness the longing:
One day she caught my eye, waved, and motioned for me to come outside. No one had ever been so familiar, so casual with me, and I rushed to put my shoes on and get out to her before she changed her mind and wandered away . . . . We were closer than ever, then. She was right beside me, holding my wrist, and she looked up and said, “Wow—you really are tall. No matter how much I see you I just can’t get over it. You seem bigger each time.”
“Yeah,” I said, shrugging. “I know it’s strange.”
I turned to go, but Suzy called to me, “Strange, yeah. But pretty amazing too. See you tomorrow?”
Kristen den Hartog has written a provocative novel, one that I urge to read for all its truth and elegance.