(Kevin Sampsell reads at Hugo House tonight at 7 pm. The reading is free.)

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Books narrated in second person are tricky to get right. There has to be a damn good reason to tackle a couple hundred pages of someone talking directly to me. In his latest book, a novel titled This Is Between Us, Portland author Kevin Sampsell found maybe the best reason for second person of all: It's a man writing (or talking) directly to the woman he loves (or loved), telling the story of their relationship. This is an elegant answer to the second-person problem: Many of the greatest love songs of all time are written in second person.

Our narrator, in this instance, is charming and honest and a little bit creepy. The story is chopped up into brief narrative episodes, roughly arranged in chronological order. No one episode is longer than a couple pages. Here's one:

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One night while drinking, we pretended that we had forgotten how to kiss. We pushed and slid our slack, unpuckered lips on each others' faces, our mouths like half-dead people in a vast desert. In a way, it was exciting and new. In a way, it was almost innocent. It was almost funny. We almost started laughing.

This is a bittersweet, warts-and-all account of a relationship. Our narrator alternates between dreamy and cruel and willfully ignorant of his own flaws. They fight and make up. They raise their children—both have kids from former relationships—as best they can. My one complaint about This Is Between Us is that the female perspective goes completely untold. But that's part of Sampsell's plan: We're forced to peer around narratorial biases and errors of pride to try to see the partner in this romance. In trying to tell the story of "us," we always fall back into self-portrait, leaving our audience forced to find a face hiding somewhere in the negative space.

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