The Line Between by Tosca Lee
Howard Books (January 2019)
384 pages; $17.10 hardcover; $17.00 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
I’ve been reading Tosca Lee’s work since her amazing and soul-shuddering debut novel, Demon: A Memoir, and have been a fan ever since. Her lyrical prose and sense of style is always a delight, and over the years she’s become a master at pacing the thriller novel. Her stories move at a furious clip, yet she still manages to weave clever plot twists and craft believable, intimate character portrayals.
The Line Between is no different—except, like most of Lee’s work, it’s more than just an apocalyptic thriller. It’s an unflinching look at religious extremism (as apart from genuine faith), and at religious leaders more interested in power and serving their own needs and appetites than they are meeting the needs of others, or serving the God they proclaim to believe.
Wynter Roth has recently escaped from the oppressive, cruel—and outright brutal—clutches of the “Christian” commune, New Earth. Taught to believe everything “of the world” is “evil,” Wynter fights to regain a sense of self and try to find an identity not rooted in fear. She moves in with her aunt, and, slowly, begins to acclimate to the world outside. She learns to put her trust in something other than judgment and condemnation.
Shortly after her newfound “freedom,” however, the apocalypse—which New Earth has warned its followers of for years—arrives. A wave of manic dementia sweeps across the globe, turning the sane and rational into the manic and paranoid with astonishing speed. As Wynter struggles to repress the fear that perhaps the teachings of New Earth were right all along (despite experiencing their abuse first-hand), she learns something even more terrifying: the cause of the apocalypse lies not necessarily in God’s judgment, but in more mortal hands, much closer to her than she ever could’ve imagined…and so does the potential cure.
The Line Between moves at a blistering pace. Lee deftly transitions back and forth between Wynter’s first-person present account of her race across a ravaged country, and her first-person past tense account of the events at New Earth which led to her exile. More important than this, however, is the timeliness of Lee’s message: the abuse—the too often masculine abuse—of power in religious institutions, and the sheep-like willingness of acolytes to never ask questions. In the #MeToo era, and in a generation which has seen scores of male religious leaders exposed as frauds bent on serving their own needs, Lee’s latest novel serves as a clarion call to followers to think critically about those who “preach” to us, and to think critically about what they teach.