Between You and Me
In Susan Wiggs’ newest offering, Caleb Stoltz is chafing at his Amish life. When his nephew is involved in a life threatening accident, he’s forced to confront the tension between his longing for the English world and his commitment to his family. Dr. Reese Powell is on hand when Caleb’s nephew – and, following the death of his brother and wife several years earlier, his ward – is brought into the ER in Philadelphia, and the bond between Reese and Caleb is nearly instantaneous. Faced with cross-cultural challenges most of us would never dream of, the two navigate family, faith, and modernity, with a satisfying conclusion.
When we meet Caleb, he’s wrestling with breaking up with the girl who thinks they’re going to get married but for whom he cannot wrestle more than a casual affection. That problem becomes moot, however, when his nephew is involved in a serious accident. Jacob’s arm is ripped off by a farm implement and he’s medivaced to Philadelphia. This decision to use English medicine is in defiance of Caleb’s father and most of the community’s elders, but Caleb is Jacob’s guardian and decides to fight for his life.
When we meet Reese, she’s exhausted both from the rigors of med school and the expectations of her parents. They are a medical dynasty of sorts, and they expect her to follow their ordained path for her success. She’s nearing The Match, that day where medical students are matched with their teaching hospital of choice for their residencies, and her desires are not aligned with theirs. Not that she can tell them that.
Caleb and Reese are both drawn to each other in a quiet way that Ms. Wiggs does a great job of unpeeling. Yes, the sexual attraction is there, but there’s a grounded-ness to it and a gentleness. Because of their differences, they spend a lot of time talking in the first two-thirds of the book – asking questions and learning to trust each other. These conversations about faith and practice and family and feeling drawn to ‘forbidden’ things were my favorite parts of the story.
My least favorite parts were some of the details. Speaking as someone who has lived just outside of Philadelphia for most of my life, I know this city, its suburbs, its geography. This is relevant because Susan Wiggs clearly does not, and that is apparent because nearly every geographical detail is just ‘off’ enough to tell me there wasn’t enough research done. For example, the town of New Hope, which is a key part of this story, is not near where she says it is, nor it is sleepy. It is, instead, the center of LGBTQ culture for Bucks County, and has been since the 1970s, as well as having the Pennsylvania State Theater, as well as a few Michelin starred eateries. Every single time the geography was described, I was yanked right out of the story – down mental rabbit trails of wondering why it was written like this and I had to work to get back to Caleb and Reese. Thus, if you are a fellow resident of the City of Brotherly Love, adjust your expectations before opening this.
Beyond those issues – which for me were major but for others will be completely inconsequential – this book is a solid contribution to the women’s fiction genre. If you’re looking for a beach read in these summer days, you can certainly do worse than Between You and Me.