In Lee L. Krecklow’s debut novel The Expanse Between, he delivers a page-turner that will leave most readers unsure of what they would do by the end. It does an interesting job of introducing a commentary on the growing Internet, screen-obsessed culture. It takes place sometime in the mid-2000’s before this craze had really taken off, and in doing so shows that perhaps the human condition always had the impulses that the technology of today is making easier to appease.
As the story unravels, it may seem obvious what should happen, but The Expanse Between leaves us with a picture of what might actually occur in today's society. We follow three characters: Thomas Stone, a reclusive writer who hasn’t written a bestseller in years; Karen, a woman desperate for normalcy after an abusive relationship; and Greg, a divorced father and gambling addict who wants to prove he can do the right thing. Through acts of desperation on all sides, their stories become intertwined in a tale of obsession, admiration, and ownership over our lives.
Early on in the story, Thomas mentions he doesn’t really understand the Internet and dislikes television. But once Thomas sees Karen in the neighboring building through his window, he is sucked in by the allure of what those mediums provide. His window is his screen and the subject on the other side becomes his obsession, just like so many people today become attached to Internet personalities or movie stars through the screens of their phones, laptops, or the theater.
Thomas becomes infatuated with Karen as she inspires him to write a new story, but as she becomes more of a character in his new novel she becomes even less of an actual person to him. She’s his property, something that Thomas has a right to control and manipulate in whatever way he feels is fitting. When Karen does something Thomas isn’t a fan of, he has trouble dealing with it, and tries in his own ways to get in contact with her while still maintaining a sense of anonymity. Is this any different than when obsessed fans harass their favorite stars over social media, hiding behind vague usernames because then they can’t be held accountable? He can’t leave the situation alone, but knows that he can’t bear to be face to face with the person he’s obsessing over.
None of this commentary is obvious or on the nose, but is present throughout the story and raises questions of our rights to privacy, or if we even have any, in a world we can still remember when we weren’t nearly as “connected.” When a writer creates something “Based on True Events” what’s their obligation to those involved in said events?
As the story unfolds, the character of Thomas fails to produce as much sympathy as may have been intended, but the tension at play between Thomas, Karen, and Greg rarely disappoints. Certain scenes involving Karen are interspersed with how Thomas perceives the situation from the building over, allowing for a continuation of the action while adding an ominous spectator to the events.
Having Thomas as the “main” character also comes with certain tradeoffs. Yes, it’s good to see from the perspective of the character that is the primary antagonist at points, but it also takes away from empathizing with other characters’ fear while interacting with him. Krecklow also falls into some cliché with this character of the writer. Thomas had one big hit, he doesn’t like movies or television, and he’s very snobbish about writing and other people’s tastes. Outside of these traits a compelling character is established through his actions, but that doesn’t change the familiarity of his setup.
Krecklow has written a story that becomes more timely every day as we grow more and more connected to one another without looking at each other. Once you’ve turned the last page you won’t be sure how to feel, and you’ll hope that Krecklow isn’t outside, staring through your window, gauging your reaction with a pen in hand.