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November 19, 2022

Between Before and After by Jessica Stilling ~ a Review

by MK French

Sebastian Foster makes indie movies based on the award-winning novels written by his estranged mother. His latest movie is based loosely on the tragic death of his sister as a child. Investigating the time period for the movie brings back memories and opens up old wounds best left scarred over.

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book cover of literary fiction novel Between Before and After by Jessica Stilling
November 2022; DX Varos Publishing; 978-1955065665
ebook, print (470 pages); literary fiction

The novel is written with two timelines, the present day and Sebastian as a teen in the mid-1990s. He has a strained relationship with her, and barely even talks to her despite turning her books into movies. She had worked as a writer for years, and he had interest in filmmaking. Even in Sebastian's sullen teenage moments, he's far closer to his mother then compared to the present day. We know something terrible happened in the apartment and his sister died, but no one directly talks about it in the present. That gives the chapters in 1994 an ominous quality. I'm more drawn to the hints about the past, the disaster that everyone keeps talking around; I'm not sure Sebastian as an adult is someone I would enjoy talking to if I met him in real life, but it's clear to everyone else around him that he's using the movie as a way to work through the trauma of his sister's death, even if he won't admit it.

The overall tone of the book is so bittersweet and sad. The final revelation of what had actually happened in the past explains the inconsistencies in behavior and why some of the characters come across as overbearing and mean. It's a painful ending, one that hits me hard and left me feeling just as lost and grieving as Sebastian. The painful wounds he and the others grew up with are even more traumatic, yet life continues to move on. Sebastian's memories endure, giving his sister Lucy a presence long after her actual death.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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