Sunday, August 27, 2006

Novel: "Before I Wake," Robert J. Wiersema

Pretty intrigued by this Georgia Straight review...

Before I Wake
By Robert J. Wiersema

Random House Canada, 371 pp, $32.95, hardcover.

Before I Wake balances a haunting meditation on domestic tragedy with the thrilling push of age-old mystery. It’s not an easy mix, but first-time novelist and well-known Victoria bookseller Robert Wiersema manages this character-centred narrative adeptly enough to keep you reading through what is clearly any parent’s worst nightmare.

An accident puts a three-year-old girl in a coma, and her parents struggle to cope. Discovering subsequently that she is a source of miracles is only one part of the novel’s many twists. The driver who caused the accident tries to commit suicide but is left in a kind of magic-realist limbo seeking, you guessed it, redemption. Meanwhile evil forces, with strong Biblical overtones, are at work to stop the “pilgrims” who come to petition the little girl for their own miraculous recoveries.

There is a lot going on in this novel, enough suspense to keep pages turning quickly, which is amazing, considering that a lot of the book deals with an analysis of relationships. There is also hope and idealism, especially when the parents reluctantly decide to let the “pilgrims” enter their home and allow their “sleeping” daughter to perform miracles: “She held her breath every time she touched Sherry’s hand to a pilgrim’s forehead, as if willing something to happen while at the same time terrified that it might.”

Wiersema works the story through different forms: e-mails and newspaper clippings mingle with a multiple-perspective narrative. He offers different possibilities for the “after” life; at one point the driver who hit the little girl is holed up in a library, in a liminal state, reading endlessly to make sense of what’s happening to him. Wiersema’s unique take on the ancient subject of miracles and how they might be received in contemporary culture lifts the book beyond maudlin overtones. It may be wrapped too tightly at the end, but Before I Wake offers enough emotional complexity to compel.

by jacqueline turner, Georgia Straight
Publish Date: 24-Aug-2006

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