All of this togetherness leads the author to a deep affection for her subjects...[Ptacin] admires their undaunted courage and candor in the face of public mockery and disdain. This gains her some very open access. It also leads her to walk carefully through spiritualism’s fraud-speckled history and to occasionally tip the story into credulity... engaging if somewhat wide-eyed ... such flaws also serve to illuminate Ptacin’s primary point, that this is a place and a story rooted in the very human hope that life is more than a handful of years on a lonely planet. And that if we believe hard enough we may find proof of that, shining in the shadows, just beyond our reach.
Ptacin has an eye for how to balance the loving (occasionally breathless) portraits of practitioners with the inevitable surreality of the situation ... though Ptacin clearly takes note of the sage, the Buddhas, the name-the-chakras singalong set to 'Do Re Mi' (a chilling thought), she never presses her subjects about the ways modern Spiritualism borrows deeply from Indigenous and Eastern traditions with little but some lip service in return. Even when attending a powwow...there's precious little perspective to be found from the people from whom Spiritualism and its related trends have so liberally—and profitably—borrowed. That Ptacin left such topics untouched can give the social history the air of a scrapbook from a beloved summer camp rather than a particularly journalistic endeavor. But that's not a surprise; even in her moments of ambivalence, she's deeply sincere about the residents of Camp Etna, and her desire to understand Spiritualism and, inevitably, herself. Luckily, she brings a dry eye with her for the detail work, and even if things wrap a little neatly, at its best The In-Betweens captures its own chaotic energy—a flawed community of colorful characters whose generational or ideological differences can usually be smoothed over in the name of healing, belonging, and walking your cat.
Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? And in Camp Etna, the 143-year-old Spiritualist summer retreat located in the Maine hinterland just west of Bangor, author Mira Ptacin has found a whopping good one ... While the history may be a bit breezy, Ms. Ptacin’s depiction of Camp Etna’s residents—a 'quirky underworld of fringe characters' and 'their truth'—is both nonjudgmental and, pardon the pun, dead-on ... I won’t spoil the ending of the book; it’s a very good one, although not entirely unexpected.