When Joss finds herself having to make mortgage payments without help from her depressed, stoner boyfriend who has just moved out, and the company she works for folds leaving her suddenly unemployed, she is forced to sell her house, on which she takes a financial loss. She decides to camp out in a vacant complex of school buildings to give herself time to decide what to do next. It turns out the building is used by a gang of teenagers for wild, drug-fueled parties and Joss soon finds herself both repelled by their charismatic evil leader, as well as sexually attracted to him. She knows he is dangerous even before she finds his girlfriend’s dead and violently abused body in the school library. During this time, she meets and befriends two other people in difficulty: Emma, a narcissistic thief living with her dog in a stolen car and Ashley, a young homosexual who is heartbroken by the fact that he has been expelled from the Jehovah’s Witness church because he is gay. When her former boyfriend reappears as a born again Christian, Joss is immersed in a journal she found that contains the thoughts of a Muslim teenager who becomes increasingly radicalized. Her struggle to understand her former boyfriend and this young man’s spiritual quests prepare her to make some hard decisions about her future. Between the Cracks She Fell is about a woman who falls off the grid and the explosive consequences of betrayal, survival in troubled times, and the pervasiveness of religious domination.
"Fast moving and compelling, Between the Cracks She Fell explores the complexities of relationships, religions, and the various selves within that help us survive when we “fall” between the cracks. Through the eyes of the likable and lively narrator Joscelyn, and her ever-growing web of new and past relationships, we discover that home is not confined to a physical place—it’s the landscape inside where you find yourself. Once again, de Nikolits exhibits her storytelling strengths by weaving various plot strands together, bringing her protagonist to a greater truth."
—Catherine Graham, author of Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects
"A lyrical and deeply moving examination of emotional pain and faith on a collision course with organized religion. Lisa de Nikolits’ highly believable and human characters are outsiders struggling to find meaning, and perhaps hope, in contemporary urban society. With a deft and confident clarity of style, she explores the complex interplay of faith, crime and social isolation. Highly recommended."
—M. H. Callway, author of Windigo Fire
"Jolted by where Joscelyn begins, then utterly surprised and in awe of where she goes, I found the journey of a buoyant, playful woman embracing her own experiment of living compelling and real. Joss’s attitude becomes evermore rich and grooves without destination. Hers has no absolutes! In spite of her returns to Tim Hortons, her dingy room in an abandoned school, and a rampant lust for her misguided lover, Joscelyn stubbornly derails relinquishing with her past in the attempt to keep a strait lid on her “almost 30” life. In her refusal to part with a home and roots she’s outgrown, she scraps to “plaster up” the walls of a romanticized self. Between The Cracks She Fell has a fierce and passionate Joss eroding false identity by choosing to live among abandoned ruins. In this place, a young woman becomes witness to ever thinning spaces among the divine secrets of others, now lost to insanity, and finds a comfortable inner language that translates her abundant wishes to hold her own style of love and longing."
—Sonia Di Placido, author of Exultation in Cadmium Red
"As usual from Lisa de Nikolits, a well-plotted story, grippingly told. I was impressed by the use of the Qu’ran and The Satanic Verses; it’s as if Between The Cracks She Fell is a response to Salman Rushdie’s work. Between The Cracks She Fell is a great read. I wonder what Joss will do next?"
—Terri Favro, author of The Proxy Bride
"Between The Cracks She Fell is a whirligig-ride into the dark recesses of “what-next?” Compelling, multi-layered, bold and engaging, a thought-provoking exploration of gender, genes, nurture, liberty, commitment, ideologies, and doctrines of faith and worship. This is fine story-telling."
—Shirley McDaniel, artist, art-explorations.com
"Utilizing Joycean techniques of dialogue and a relatable prose, de Nikolits manages to paint a visceral world of a lost, but determined soul. Joscelyn, like many people do, encounters a whole range of characters in her journeys. From her egotistically-minded friend Emma to her relationship with Ashley, a friend who is troubled, but is confident in his own admirable way, Joscelyn must fight adversity at every step. She finds consolation unexpectedly in the diary of Imran Ali, an Islamic fundamentalist whose religious conversion holds a key to her own search for meaning. Her fiery connection with a drug dealer, Lenny, is an example to her fight for identity in a world that continues to repress and oppress her individual will to power. Between The Cracks is an engaging novel that will have you questioning the stability of learned faith and in awe of the strength of pure human will.”
—Jacqueline Valencia, author of The Octopus Complex
“It’s the idea that when everything else in your life is spiraling out of control, you’ll grasp onto any idea for it to all make sense again. The juxtaposition between the characters reinforces that it’s not any particular religion that is ‘bad’. The characters lost control of their lives, and that’s when they lost the delicate balance between themselves and their religion. It’s beautifully done.”
—Samia Akhtar, reader
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived and worked in the United States, Australia and Britain. As an art director, she has worked on marie claire, Vogue Australia, Vogue Living, Cosmopolitan and SHE magazines. Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, was published by Inanna Publications in 2010 and was awarded the IPPY Gold Medal for literature on women’s issues in 2011, as well as long-listed for the 2011 ReLit Awards. Her second novel, West of Wawa, was published by Inanna in 2011 and was one of four Chatelaine Bookclub Editor’s Picks and was awarded the IPPY Silver Medal for Popular Fiction in 2012. Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos was recently awarded the 2014 IPPY Silver for Popular Fiction. Her fourth novel, The Witchdoctor's Bones, was published by Inanna Publications in 2014. Lisa lives and works in Toronto.
Between the Cracks She Fell explores urban landscapes and the ghosts that haunt us
reviewed by Sarah Hipworth
rabble.ca - February 18, 2016
Cities are palimpsests. Like those washed-off scrolls ready to be reused by a scribe, the words that came before leaving spectral impressions on the page, cities are built, unbuilt and rebuilt, leaving behind evidence of lives lived and left. In this way, time is made circular, existing on top of itself. It is no wonder, then, that in such spaces we should encounter the ghosts of those who came before us and those who might come after.
It's these myriad ghosts inhabiting a city's abandoned places that inspired the writing of Lisa de Nikolits fifth novel, Between the Cracks She Fell. The book "is like an homage to every ghost who talks to me and speaks to me of their lives that have gone wrong," said de Nikolits at the Women Write the City panel discussion about city as muse and backdrop for female protagonists, held at Another Story Bookshop in Toronto on January 28.
De Nikolits met the ghosts who would become the characters in her novel while she and her husband were exploring an old P.O.W. camp in Bowmanville.
Joscelyn, the feisty 28-year-old British expat determined to make her life in Canada despite recent bad luck, appeared to de Nikolits as a ghost from the future, hands on hips, daring de Nikolits to write about her and what living in those lonely buildings at night would be like.
The P.O.W. camp later became an Islamic school. From that stage of its history, a ghost from the past appeared in the character of Imran, suggested by the scraps of math homework de Nikolits found on the floor.
The angry and frustrated delinquents who destroyed the abandoned buildings also came to her there. "It's when you catch a place slightly off guard, before it has time to put on its party face, that's when you meet the spirits that linger, the ones who are hoping to have their stories told so they can be set free from the no man's land in which they're stuck," said de Nikolits.
Joscelyn, the novel's heroine, has just lost her house, her job and her boyfriend. Homeless and needing to regroup, she seeks shelter from her broken life in an abandoned and vandalized building on the outskirts of Toronto. Her temporary dwelling is the opposite of a secure oasis of order; it's chaotic, unfamiliar, and dangerous.
Despite de Nikolits' emphasis on character and setting during the panel discussion, Between the Cracks She Fell is not a character study. It does not delve deeply into the crippling emotions that losing one's home, and job, and lover can have on the psyche. Her characters are fun and varied, but not quite three-dimensional.
Nor is Between the Cracks She Fell really a study of place. The reader is not left haunted by the storied buildings in which Joscelyn makes her temporary home. Setting never quite becomes character. And despite the novel's interpolation of The Satanic Verses, Joscelyn's favourite book and one of the few possessions she takes with her, Between the Cracks She Fell is not what might be called "high literature" although it certainly aptly engages Rushdie's themes. When Joscelyn discusses The Satanic Verses with Lenny, a brilliant but troubled miscreant, she could equally be talking about Between the Cracks She Fell: "This book is about religion […]. And love, and trying to find a home."
Character, setting and theme are deftly managed, but it is perhaps the author's ability to not linger on the deeper and more painful issues that makes the book so approachable and entertaining. It is as popular fiction that Between the Cracks She Fell finds its strength: it is private eye fiction, murder mystery and quest narrative.
Joscelyn, independent and intrepid, discovers truths and shares necessary findings with the police officer who walks the beat in the city beyond. The murder mystery lends suspense, and in the post-mortem escapade of the body, comic relief. The plot is a quest narrative, full of encounters with monstrous beings that want to hurt our heroine, fairies who care for her, and imps who derail her (all of which are human in form).
As is the case with quests, she sets out from an old life, seeks for something (in this case, self-knowledge), and will ultimately return to that place that appears on page one of every soul's private atlas: home, whatever that will prove to be for Joscelyn.
Between the Cracks She Fell is an adventure story with a lively heroine and a colourful entourage. If you're looking for a plot-driven narrative with a strong, female protagonist, which also touches on important social issues, grab this book. You won't be disappointed. It might even lead you to some urban exploration and infiltration of your own.
Sarah Hipworth is an editor and writer living in Hamilton.
Between the Cracks She Fell by Lisa de Nikolits
'Who's Reading What for Issue 137' - The New Quarterly
reviewed by Jessica Westhead, "Puppybird" - February 8, 2016
"Between the Cracks She Fell is a literary thriller, and I’ve only just started but I’m already hooked. Joss is down on her luck and sinking into depression (her boyfriend left her, she lost her job, and she’ll soon be homeless)—and things are going to get worse. Completely vulnerable, she’s about to fall under the spell of a violent man. Lisa de Nikolits does an excellent job of subtly but relentlessly building suspense. Within the first few pages, I was right inside Joss’s head. Now I’m getting more and more anxious about where her growing desperation is going to take her. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, but it definitely won’t be the last."
Lisa de Nikolits's new novel about those who've slipped through the cracks will capture your heart.
Must-read books of 2015: Between the Cracks She Fell
Jill Buchner - Canadian Living Magazine – October 22, 2015
There's a natural human urge when disaster strikes to curl up and hide in some dark corner to escape reality. Though most of us don't act on this—or at least we substitute a warm bed for the dark corner until time heals our wounds—the character in Lisa de Nikolits's new novel, Between the Cracks She Fell, gives into this impulse in the most intriguing way.
When Joss's boyfriend leaves and the company she works for goes belly up, she finds herself unable to pay her mortgage. Rather than returning to her family overseas, she hides away in a dingy room in an abandoned Muslim school. It's a move that seems natural to this fiercely passionate and outspoken woman who is at times flighty but utterly in touch with her emotions.
Unfortunately, even once she finds her dark corner of the world, she learns you can never truly escape reality, and so Joss faces new problems as she encounters people around her makeshift home. She finds herself strangely drawn to, yet also fearful of, a group of young thugs who vandalize the school. She befriends a prickly woman who is living in her car and who needs money to help her sick dog—by any means necessary. And she meets a kindred spirit who has been excommunicated by his family and now may be in danger from his partner at home. Even a journal she finds at the school causes her to worry that a former student's radical ideas might lead to violence.
All of the characters—individuals who've slipped between the cracks in one way or another—are hopelessly human and compelling in their own right, but the eccentric Joss is a true masterpiece at the centre of them all, optimistically struggling to rediscover her place in the world when all that she used to rely on has fallen away. She is uncontrived—and at times candid to the point of being comical.
Throughout her journey, she faces important questions about religion, trust and the difference between what is lawful and what is right and wrong. And as she navigates it all, the dangers around her grow, and de Nikolits's drama quickly turns into a suspenseful thriller.
This is Lisa de Nikolits's fifth novel. She has previously won IPPY (independent publisher) awards for her work, and when she isn't writing, she is a contributing art director at Canadian Living. This latest book from her is a true exploration of the human spirit. Anyone who has ever felt like they've slipped through the cracks or been lost in life can relate to this captivating story.
From Chapter 10: The Pilgrimage
I reached my destination in the early afternoon and I faced down a sea of grass. I stepped on the wax pentagram and made my way towards the building I recalled as being the most suitable.
The wind was strong and my hair whipped across my face, making it hard for me to see. It was a blustery day and the blue sky was quickly obscured by nasty clouds like the thick grey underfelt of a wet carpet. The tall grass made hissing swishing noises as I pushed through it and I felt irritated that the elements were not being more supportive and welcoming.
An ill wind? Great. Now, I was not only homeless, I was talking to myself like some bleeding old welfare geezer. I felt horribly afraid.
First you have to die. Ho ji! Ho ji! How to ever smile again, if first you won’t cry? I tell you, you must die, I tell you, I tell you.
I wanted to turn and run back to my house, fish the keys out of the mailbox and just go home. But the house was no longer mine, I was locked out.
The thought filled me with a flash of terror and I rushed towards the abandoned school, knowing that the sooner I got an accurate lay of the land, the better.
The school, in it’s prime, had been immense and sprawling, with a series of large buildings scattered across the generous land. There was a gymnasium, a large block with classrooms, a cafeteria, a library, two boarding houses and an administration building.
The building with all the classrooms had long since been burnt to the ground and I remembered reading in the newspaper that the police suspected local teenage arsonists but they never found any proof.
The gymnasium had been boarded up tightly, with no way to get inside.
And while I loved the high-ceilinged cafeteria canopied by generous skylights and fitted with ornately panelled walls, it was, at last sight, populated with wasps and mounds of scattered food.
Kids, Shayne had said, stepping on Cheerios. This school’s got a weird history. It was a school for messed-up boys, then in 1941, it was a prisoner of war camp where the Allies put Nazi officers. The crazy thing was, it was more like a five-star hotel than a prisoner-of-war camp; it had an indoor swimming pool and a theatre, all kinds of luxuries. After that it was a Catholic school, then it was a school for Chinese immigrants who wanted to learn English but that went under when two of the kids figured they weren’t being taught well enough or fast enough and they murdered the headmaster.
Holy cow, I said. I hated the nuns at my school but not enough to murder them.
They didn’t mean to murder him, they just meant to kidnap him. Stand against that wall, I want to get a picture of you in the doorway where it says Out The Box, yes, move a bit more to the left.
How did he die, if they didn’t mean to murder him?
He was diabetic and he died because he didn’t have his meds with him and they didn’t know.
What happened to the kids?
They went to prison. I read in the newspaper that their parents were happy that at least in prison they could carry on learning English. Kind of ironic, really.
And then what happened to the school? I pulled up my t-shirt and flashed him for good measure but he was adjusting something on his camera and didn’t notice.
It became an Islamic school but that folded and now it’s just this, a mess.
An Islamic school. I tried to imagine the myriad people who had sat under the skylights and I wondered if any of them had been happy. It didn’t sound like it.
I pulled up an old office chair and dusted it off as best I could.
Shayne sat down on a wooden box next to me and we looked around that yellow Eden with ferocious peeling paint and the wasps going crazy over the smashed Cheerios.
Look, I pointed upwards.
High up in the wall, near the rafters, a fan was idly spinning one broken petal. A long dangling chain swung back and forth, and except for that slight shadow of movement, you would never have known it was there.
That’s like that thing, you know, if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? I said. If we weren’t here, would that fan still be turning?
Shayne shrugged and lit a joint. Couldn’t say, he said, and he sounded like an underwater diver, holding the smoke in his lungs.
I love this place one of the best, I said. It’s crazy and beautiful and tragic and awesome. Rooms and rooms and rooms and rooms, why so many rooms in a cafeteria?
Meat lockers, fridges, inventory, pantry, cutlery, kitchens, cookers, Shayne said.
He was right, and yes, there were rooms and rooms but all of them were too visible, all too open, none of them any good for me now.
I wanted the most private and hidden room on the spacious property and I thought I knew exactly where that was.
I forced my way through the thick undergrowth, wanting to avoid a brush with poison ivy.
I was startled by a sudden scraping noise and I jumped around in fright, the blood pounding in my ears like a freight train, but the culprit was only a squirrel clawing its way up a tree.
Better get used to strange noises, girlie, there’ll be a lot of those. I wasn’t sure if it was me or Gran talking.
I approached the door of the admin building on tiptoe. The door was pushed partway closed and I pried it open slowly, ready to bolt if an alarm sounded or if anyone called out from inside.
But there was nothing in there except the thick silence of the peeling disintegrating walls and the thud of my frightened heart.
I went further inside, my senses on full alert. I was ready to turn tail at the slightest provocation but the interior was still and unmoving. Grafitti artists had been busy though; You Ugly Mother Fuck ERR said one wall in red and yellow, while Satan’s Waitin’ was in green italics on the opposite side.
The room to my immediate left had clearly been inhabited at some point. It was littered by a detritus of rotting blankets, a cheap Persian prayer rug, paper plates, old shoes and a puppy and kittens calendar that dated back to 2004. Plastic cutlery lay on the floor in amongst the moth-eaten clothes and, dead centre and jaunty atop the mess, sailed a box of Kleenex with one neatly-pulled out tissue, like a taut sailcloth ready to catch the wind.
Come out to the punishment of your Lord and his anger! Follow the teachings of Muhammed today, may God accept all our weak efforts.
Someone had taken their time to inscribe the walls but I was not interested in that room. The calendar reminded me of all the others I had seen in the abandoned places Shayne and I had explored. Seemed like the homeless were obsessed with what day it was and it made sense to me now and I thought I should get a one too so as not to lose track of time.
I peered into the room on my right. A fax machine lay stripped and broken at the foot of an office chair with a shredded seat cover, and a cheap faux wood desk was dashed on its side, with the broken blinds behind it pulled down and hanging askew.
The window was boarded up but the room was too close to the front of the building for comfort.
I went further into the building, past gutted photocopy machines and pinup boards which still displayed safety guides and first aid advice.
Even in death you’re bloody ugly, I told to the overturned clumsy beige equipment. There’s nothing redeeming about you, darling, not even as a relic.
I looked into what was once a meeting room and I thought it had potential but the glass window looked out into the passage I had just walked down and if the front door opened without warning, I would be in direct line of sight which was no good at all.
I turned a dark corner. Arsonists had been busy here; the walls and ceiling were blackened and blistered and my heart beat faster and faster, and the push of blood felt thick and slow as if fear had coagulated like custard in my veins.
I LIKE CHEESE. I LIKE CHEESE.
Red spray paint on a yellow background. And then, in front of me, a small mound of turds squatted, and the toilet matter looked horribly human. There was a kindly arrow and a caption. SHIT.
No shit Sherlock. I stepped over the excrement.
I realized something. Doing this by myself was a very different experience to doing it with Shayne. I hadn’t thought it would be – I hadn’t really thought about it at all but now that I was here, in the moment, alone, it was terrifying. Apart from being alone, the harsh fact that I didn’t have a home to go back to didn’t help my comfort level either.
I held my breath and stood still, hardly even breathing, trying to acertain if I really was alone but there was no activity, no sound, no sign of life. I was alone and I plucked up my courage to carry on.
I swung my backpack off my shoulders and pulled out my new flashlight and when I flicked it on, I was immediately reassured not only by its light but by its weight.
I pushed on.
WHERE IS MY MIND? WHERE IS MY MIND?
The typography told me that the cheese lover had spoken.
It was near the end of a small blackened hallway, just a little way off to the right, with violet lettering inscribing Flowers of The Abyss, that I found my new home.