Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Before I Wake C.L. Taylor
3.0 out of 5 stars -- A coma, a secret, an unreliable and perhaps unstable narrator...
Charlotte Jackson, 15-year-old daughter of Susan and Brian Jackson, lies unresponsive and comatose in a hospital bed after stepping in front of a bus. Though her physical injuries are resolving and though CT scans and MRIs show her brain function as normal -- Charlotte has not woken up after 6 weeks. At first, Brian comes up with many possible causes of Charlotte's accident but Susan becomes convinced it was a suicide attempt after finding Charlotte's diary with the chilling entry; "This secret is killing me."
Desperate to find out what drove Charlotte to want to kill herself, and realizing that she has become estranged from her teenaged daughter, Susan throws herself into trying to uncover this secret. As Susan tries to contact Charlotte's friends and reconstruct her activities in the days leading up to the event, she is confronted with her own past and memories of a monster she had thought she'd left far behind. Susan, victim of an old boyfriend named James, suffered the kinds of abuse that left her with post traumatic stress and she's had episodes of instability and a "nervous breakdown" in her history to the point of needing medication and long term therapy. When Susan's behavior becomes increasingly disturbing and she reports that James has sent subtle messages to her, no one takes her seriously. Has James found her at last and how can Susan protect her daughter before he destroys them both.
Interspersed with Susan's diary entries from 20 years in the past, the narrative weaves a tale that makes the reader both sympathetic to and suspicious of Susan. As she delves deeper into Charlotte's life, she's met with resistance and scorn as she tries to find out the secret that made Charlotte feel her life was not worth living. Throughout all, Susan seems to be determined but often a bit off the rails. As she becomes increasingly erratic, Brian tries to be supportive but believes she needs to go back on her medication and return to therapy. Susan is convinced, however, that Charlotte is in extreme danger from the man that Susan had herself escaped -- the obsessive sadist, James.
I enjoyed this psychological thriller, reading it over the course of a couple of hours. It was predictable in the way that novels involving unreliable narrators tend to be but having the glimpses into Susan's backstory did provide the tension and the motive for what follows. It begs the question, just what would a mother do to protect her daughter and how far would she go to find out those secrets?
Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Landmark for the e-book ARC to review.