The characters in Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us represent a number of different facets of a woman’s life, embodying everything from maternal love and disappointment to loyal friendship and betrayal. In a place and time in which caste and money are the truly governing factors of life, Bhima’s story, along with the stories of Sera and Maya, serves to expose the arbitrary nature of life, the universe, and our place in it.
While the cast is largely dominated by women, the men in the novel play a significant, if secondary, role in the story’s pacing. They do not fare well in the story. There are no male victors, no heroes, to rescue the damsels who are, in various ways, all in states of distress. In fact, most of the men are posthumous participants, active only in the women’s memories. Based on their characters, that’s the best place for them, as they tend to represent the most negatives parts of human nature.
Socioeconomic class acts as the governing force in this novel, keeping everyone where he or she is supposed to be in terms of behavior and interaction. While some characters, like Dinaz, rage against it, others, like Sera, seem to find it comforting that such a force exists to help them make sense of life and social interaction.
Maternity is also placed under the literary microscope here, and Umrigar examines even the harshest of maternal realities. Bhima’s relationship with Maya is troubled for the majority of the novel, but only because the emotions in which that relationship is rooted are so fierce. Bhima both hates and loves Maya, often simultaneously, because she is so committed to providing Maya with the opportunities requisite for a better life, one not mired in deceit, betrayal, and poverty. The flip side of that coin, however, is the relationship between Dinaz and Sera. Their relationship examines the effects of a mother’s relying too heavily on her children as the sole source of her happiness. In the end, that reliance only serves to reinforce earlier lies and bolster the boundaries that money and class so arbitrarily create.
Terminal Notes: Readers will find in The Space Between Us a raw examination of what life can do to those who are often undeserving of its wrath. The characters are, more often than not, the victims of circumstances beyond their own control, and the question then becomes whether they are better off by being blissfully ignorant, as in the case of Dinaz, or irreversibly aware, like Bhima.