The Time Between

Published May 6, 2014
ISBN-10: 0451468112
ISBN-13: 9780451468116

The Time Between

Available Now in Paperback

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The New York Times bestselling author of the Tradd Street novels delivers a tale that spans two generations of sisters and secrets, set in the stunning South Carolina Lowcountry.

Eleanor Murray will always remember her childhood on Edisto Island, where her late father, a local shrimper, shared her passion for music. Now her memories of him are all that tempers the guilt she feels over the accident that put her sister in a wheelchair—and the feelings she harbors for her sister’s husband.

To help support her sister, Eleanor works at a Charleston investment firm during the day, but she escapes into her music, playing piano at a neighborhood bar. Until the night her enigmatic boss walks in and offers her a part-time job caring for his elderly aunt, Helena, back on Edisto. For Eleanor, it’s a chance to revisit the place where she was her happiest—and to share her love of music with grieving Helena, whose sister recently died under mysterious circumstances.

An island lush with sweetgrass and salt marshes, Edisto has been a peaceful refuge for Helena, who escaped with her sister from war-torn Hungary in 1944. The sisters were well-known on the island, where they volunteered in their church and community. But now Eleanor will finally learn the truth about their past: secrets that will help heal her relationship with her own sister—and set Eleanor free….

“From its mesmerizing first scene, The Time Between propels you into the sun-baked world of the South Carolina Lowcountry, and a childhood tragedy that haunts the lives of two unforgettable sisters in love with the same man. In clear and gorgeous prose, White spins a luminous tale of love and loss, of betrayal and redemption, and of a harrowing family secret buried in the upheaval of the Second World War. This is storytelling of the highest order: the kind of book that leaves you both deeply satisfied and aching for more. No one weaves together the present and the past with greater magic than Karen White.”—Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of Tiny Little Thing

“White…crafts characters who transcend their romantic roles through their frailties and weaknesses.”—Kirkus Reviews

“White moves smoothly between narrators as well as different time periods, crafting an intriguing and romantic family drama.”—Booklist

“White writes complex, heartbreaking novels with just enough pathos and plenty of redemption.”—RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)

“Set in South Carolina’s idyllic Lowcountry against the bittersweet notes of a piano in mourning and a prophecy spoken in Gullah, The Time Between weaves a story as intricate and sturdy as a sweetgrass basket, with the fresh, magnetic voices of its headstrong characters.”—ArtsATL

The Time Between is a lyrically written, beautiful novel about atonement, love, and letting go. Engrossing and unforgettable.”—New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James

Chapter 1


The first time I died was the summer I turned seventeen. I remember the air being so hot you could smell the pluff mud baking in the sun, the scent sulfur-sweet and strong enough to curl your toes, the tall stems of sweetgrass listless, their tips bowed in submission. Blood sat like melted copper in my open mouth as I rose above my broken body, splayed like a rag doll beside the dirt road. Let me go, I thought as I hovered, weightless. But I felt the pull of a gossamer thread of conscience and retribution that tethered me to this earth. Before I heard the screams of the sirens and my mother’s wailing, I knew I wouldn’t stay dead for long.

I watched, suspended between this world and the next, as my mother bent over Eve’s body, my sister’s legs bent in ways they shouldn’t have been. Two paramedics worked on her, trying to push my mother away, while another noticed me, my body nearly hidden in the thick underbrush by the side of the road. He squatted next to me, his fingers reaching for the pulse in my neck. I felt none of this. I watched passively, as if I were a spectator in a movie theater.

I noticed that the paramedic was young, with thick blond hair on his head and muscled forearms that reflected the sunlight and reminded me of the sweetgrass. I was studying him so intently that I didn’t realize that he’d begun to perform CPR. Still I felt nothing. I was more focused on my sister and on my mother, who hadn’t looked in my direction yet. I hadn’t really expected her to.

And there was Glen, tall and slender and strong, moving between Eve and me, helpless to do anything, his frantic pacing only stirring up dust.

I heard my name called and thought for a moment it might be my father come to take me away—away from the two broken girls and screaming mother and the air that moved in hot, thick waves. Flies buzzed and dipped over the thin trail of blood from my open mouth, but I couldn’t hear them or feel them. I was thinking somebody needed to swat them away when I noticed for the first time the wooden church set back behind the trees. When Eve and I had walked our bikes down the dirt road just a short time before, giggling like the little girls we had once been, I hadn’t seen it. It seemed impossible that I couldn’t have.

The bright, whitewashed walls and tall steeple shone like a benediction in the relentless sunlight. The words PRAISE HOUSE were hand painted over the top of the arched red door, and a fence with a rusty gate swung as if spirits were passing through. It made no sense for the church to be where it was, nestled between the giant oaks and bright green undergrowth. But the white paint glowed in the sun as if brand-new, the wood steps leading up to the front door smooth and worn from the tread of hundreds of feet. Seated on the bottom step was a large woman with skin the color of burnt charcoal, her fingers working her sewing bone through the strands on a sweetgrass basket. She wasn’t looking at me, but I was sure it was she who’d called my name.

“Who are you?” I wanted to ask, but all I could do was watch her and her fingers and the grass as it was woven into the pattern of the basket.

Grasping the basket in one hand, she stood and began walking toward where I lay. She stopped for a moment, looking down on me, her shadow blocking the sun from my baking body like the angel of mercy. Slowly she knelt by the paramedic and leaned toward me. He didn’t seem to notice the woman as she bent close to my ear. Her words were clear, and I thought I could feel a cool breeze on my cheek from her breath as she spoke. “All shut-eye ain’t sleep; all good-bye ain’t gone.”

The pain struck me like a fist as I was pulled back toward earth, down into the body I’d inhabited for seventeen years, and gasped with one long, icy breath. I opened my eyes, meeting the blue eyes of the startled paramedic. I turned my head, searching for the woman, but she and the church were gone. Only the sound of a rusty gate and the lingering scent of the heat-scorched sweetgrass told me that she’d been there at all.

I heard my mother crying out my sister’s name over and over as I stared up at the clear blue sky, where a white egret circled slowly overhead. All shut-eye ain’t sleep; all good-bye ain’t gone. I didn’t know what she meant, but I reasoned I’d been given another lifetime to figure it out.

Almost fourteen years later, I was still trying.

Excerpted from The Time Between by Karen White. Copyright © 2013 by Karen White. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

1. “The relationships between sisters is a little piece of heaven and hell. But we share the same soul.” Do you agree with Helena’s sentiment? How does this idea unfold over the course of the novel for each pair of sisters? Why is this relationship so complicated, special? Are our siblings an extension of us?

2. From Eve’s difficult pregnancy and Glen and Ellie’s affections, to Helena and Bernadette’s wartime tragedies, every character in the story seems to carry a burden of secrets. How do these secrets shape the story? Does airing them set the characters free?

3. Why does Eve wish for a child? Do you think it is wise or fair knowing the risks? What trumps her own safety in her heart?

4. In the novel, we spend a lot of time moving in and out of Gigi’s, Helena’s, and Bernadette’s bedrooms-what do these rooms say about the characters? Do you think these rooms define or illustrate our lives?

5. What did you think was hidden in Bernadette’s bedroom?

6. Why are the Gullah sweetgrass baskets, like the “secret keeper,” so significant? What kind of magic do you think is woven into them at the time of their creation?

7. How do Helena and Ellie mirror each other in terms of the guilt they feel over the past? Is forgiveness possible for either one?

8. Why do you think the author chose the title “The Time Between”? What does it mean in the context of the story?

9. How does Ellie’s caretaking of Helena transform them, even heal, them both? Why does Ellie stick with the job as Helena works to sabotage any relationship? When do things start to change?

10. Did you suspect any of the twists in the book? Which ones? Where did you think the paintings originated from?

11. Were you shocked by the revelations about Ben and Samuel’s fates? Could you ever imagine having to make such a set of life or death choices-especially if as a mother? Does knowing this background help you make sense of Helena’s behaviors? Do you think she did the “right” thing?

12. What does the Gullah woman mean by “All goodbye ain’t gone”? What does it mean to Ellie? Gigi?

13. What does it mean for Ellie to finally play the Chopin piece?