In The Through, Adrian and her partner Ben navigate the strange and dangerous magic of a black ghost town, Okahika, that exists somewhere between Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the other-world of flying slave ships and mothers back from the dead. This narrative interrogates blackness in the New South, including the ways in which it is haunted and revisited by the old. It also engages with love and trauma, exploring how we keep ourselves hidden and allow ourselves to know each other in our most intimate relationships.
Adrian was born and raised in New Orleans, in a home where she felt desperately alone in her experiences. Sexually abused at a young age, Adrian manifested her “ice twin,” “a frozen soul who orbited the same small brown body gasping under the man from behind the fence.” From then on, Adrian developed a protective chill that safeguarded her from searing pain.
Then came Katrina. The storm swallowed up everything that she loved and hated. After being rescued from her roof and spending time in a mental rehabilitation facility before finding her way to Tuscaloosa and back in contact with her old boyfriend, Ben.
Ben and Adrian are not in an ideal partnership—they seem to want different things—Adrian is an entrepreneur with her own business, as Ben listlessly adjuncts at the local university while waiting to become a writer. They withhold and outright lie to each other, while also trying to find the tenderness they used to share.
The Through, as folk call it, used to be called Okahika, a black community that existed outside of Tuscaloosa’s grid—without street names or formal recognition. Okahika is a town that exists in many different states, a space that’s connected by energy and history, a space that’s all at once gone and there, waiting. All throughout the novel there are symbols of/from/to Okahika and their pasts—the cicadas that seem to be eternally buzzing, the couple’s cat, Free Cookie, who may be the pied piper of Okahika, the Katrina cross that keeps cutting its way into Adrian’s hand, and the Yemaya, a slave ship that flies over the town, in and out of the liminal space of the Through, and pulls the couple on a terrifying journey.
Inside The Through, Ben sees the Yemaya for the first time, while on the other side of town, Adrian sees the ship as she drives across a bridge. Adrian, Ben and Jenkins, a college friend who comes to visit during it all, are quite literally pulled on an otherworldly journey by this ship, making stops along the way—to meet Adrian’s maybe-mother, her ice twin, both presumably back from the dead, Jenkins’ Granny Mary, who is full of magic and soothsaying, and watch the destruction of the city they live in, including their home.
In the end we are left with growth, but at a high cost. Jenkins is dead and Ben and Adrian are separated, caught in different Okahika’s across the country. Adrian’s Okahika seems like a cousin to her hometown of New Orleans, where she’s forced to process the war-weary past that waits for her there, while Ben is in the familiar Okahika, tasked with finding Adrian, but only if he can contribute to her healing. As Ben reflects, “Some kinds of love, like some kinds of pain, make us weak. Some kinds make us grow. Others plunge us into deep places—some pain, some joy, some regrets. But always from that deep place.” And indeed, The Through builds that deep place and pulls us all in.