In the Meantime
Beautiful novel about parenting in the era of climate change and the choice between head and heart
In a moving and layered novel, Peter Zantingh explores the key issue of our time: is it unconscionable to fulfil your desire to have children in a world that’s at risk of becoming unlivable? With his precise prose and compassionate eye, this author transforms a major dilemma into an intimate human story.
Robin, a young father, is on a train to see his wife, who is in Germany for work. Tess is an illustrator of children’s books and incorporates details from their life into her work. In her latest book, Robin notices something that worries him. Has she made a decision about their future without letting him know? He decides to follow her to Germany with their three-year-old, Mats.
It’s a summer of catastrophes. Rivers burst their banks, one heat record after the other is broken. As a landscape of parched farmland and flooded homes passes by outside Robin’s window, he reflects on his life. He grieves his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and grows melancholy about how fast Mats is growing up and how quickly time is passing. He worries about a natural world gone haywire and about Tess, who suspects she might be infertile.
Her desire to have children is juxtaposed with his doubt. ‘A flood was coming and we had pushed new life out onto the water, like Moses in the wrong story from the Bible.’ Gradually the reader starts to notice that Mats is sitting next to Robin in the train car one moment but seems to be absent the next. Does the boy really exist? Or is he only there in his parents’ imaginations, a vision of the future come to life, a ‘radio signal from later on’?
The touching intimacy between father and son and beautiful moments of real joy and wonder keep the reader in the dark for a long time, until an astonishing denouement, when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
In the Meantime is an ingeniously conceived novel about being a father, dealing with insecurity, fear of loss and the desire to maintain control as life barrels on.