Thiago Alvarez lost his wife, Vera, in a tragic accident. He may also be losing his mind. In powerfully immersive first-person, stream-of-consciousness prose, Gus Moreno’s debut novel provides an inside view of a grief-stricken husband’s worst nightmare that may or may not be his own fault.
This Thing Between Us feels like a fever dream but is written like a one-sided conversation between Thiago and his late wife. Drowning in guilt and incredulity at how everything fell apart in an instant, Thiago tells Vera his troubles, recounting what’s happened since she died and reexamining the tragic events that led to her death. How did their life unravel so quickly? Was their advanced smart speaker really an instrument of torture? The device seems to have had a will of its own—or maybe it was possessed. Or maybe this is all Thiago’s fault—his family’s curse, his destiny. Maybe, he thinks, Vera’s mother was right about him all along.
A few months before Vera’s death, events began innocently enough. Thiago and Vera’s smart speaker (“Itza”) played music without their request, which could’ve been a glitch. Odd packages arrived, even though they hadn’t placed any orders. They heard mysterious sounds in the walls. And then, most portentously, an alarm clock didn’t go off as it should’ve, throwing Thiago and Vera’s schedule into chaos and placing Vera in the exact wrong place at the worst possible time. Now Vera’s gone, and Thiago is lost. And that’s just the beginning.
There’s no question that this novel delivers the fright. Bodies drop. Violence springs up seemingly out of nowhere. Moreno will drop the sword on anyone or anything at any time. But the most surprising and challenging aspect of This Thing Between Us is that it’s as emotionally taxing as it is terrifying—a novel of domestic conflict and suspense as well as horror. The first-person conversational style forces the reader to adopt Thiago’s perspective, as hallucinatory as it may be, and it’s easy to feel as overwhelmed in grief and confusion as he does.
It doesn’t really matter whether or not Thiago’s horrors involve malevolent possession. What matters, he realizes, is the effect of this haunting: “The point of possession was to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. It was hard to see myself any other way.” The question that dogs Thiago (and readers) is what it will take to be rid of this deeply burrowed discontent.