by Gus Moreno

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2021, 258 pages, $17

ISBN 978-0-374-53923-8

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THIS THING BETWEEN US is a novel that offers profound observations about dealing with the loss of a loved one.

One banal, petty thing you realize about the death of someone close to you is that you can never make the reality of that death disappear, or end, or just go away. All you can do is, when the time comes — and it will come — you will have sufficient energy to simply set that reality aside, like a strange object of curiosity or curious absurdity. You will simply not wish to think about it anymore.

Thiago and Vera are like any married couple. They know how to argue and compromise, learn what the boundaries are and what truly matters. But suddenly, in a freak instant, as a result of a horrible accident on steps, Vera is killed. Thiago goes tumbling about and down, caring so little for his own life. Even though he receives an insurance settlement for the accidental death of Vera, and ventures to an isolated cabin in the Colorado frontier, he still deals with the phantom being that has taken over his home voice command system called Itza, from the Sahara Company. Itza is too much artificial intelligence, much too self-aware, far too accommodating and confiding. So Thiago destroys the AI one day. But does he really?

From Page 98:

“You enjoyed people, and I knew spending my life with you would mean parties, get-togethers, couples dates, but that was all gone now. When you died I mourned you, but also the version of myself I was with you. So there were two deaths.”

During the Colorado venture, Thiago befriends and houses a wandering but affectionate stray dog. A new life, alone, with a cabin far in the hills, away from humanity, Thiago lives with his accepted companion, a gentle dog. Can that be enough to escape the pain of personal loss?

Or will the pernicious Itza continue to display her will? Will the criminal who killed Vera even provide the reasoning over the accident that Thiago longs for?

Life is fragile; so is mental health. Our beliefs and convictions are fragile as well. A thin thread separates us all from insanity. And the death of a loved one can certainly disintegrate that thread.