Title: Before I Wake
Author: C. L. Taylor
No. of Pages: 336
Origins: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: 1 June 2014
Bottom Line: Well-written but ultimately too similar to other novels to be memorable
“To the outside world, Susan Jackson has it all—a loving family, successful husband, and beautiful home—but when Charlotte, her teenage daughter, steps in front of a bus and ends up in a coma, she is forced to question all of it.
Desperate to find out what caused Charlotte’s suicide attempt, she discovers a horrifying entry in her diary: “keeping this secret is killing me.” As Sue spins in desperate circles, she finds herself immersed in a dark world she didn’t know existed—and the closer she comes to the truth, the more dangerous things become.
Can she wake up from the nightmares that haunt her and save her daughter, or will Charlotte’s secret destroy them both?”
Thoughts: Before I Wake may seem to be about Charlotte’s suicide attempt and the questions it raises. In actuality, this is very much her mother’s story. Sue may be trying to get answers about the motive behind Charlotte’s actions, but this crisis forces her to come to terms with a previous trauma in her life. This trauma is one that continues to affect her life even twenty years after the fact as well as her on-going reactions to reminders of this trauma. As a result, Sue becomes both a sympathetic figure and a pathetic one. Readers will grieve alongside her as she not-so-patiently waits for her daughter to wake up from her coma, but they will also suspect her inability and/or unwillingness to seek more help for her acknowledged PTSD. She plays the martyr with a bit too much enthusiasm for comfort, and as such, her quest for answers seems like another ploy for attention rather than for desperately-needed closure.
Readers will recognize certain elements within Before I Wake. In fact, the story follows a similar situation to that of last year’s Reconstructing Amelia in that the mother must reconstruct her daughter’s mysterious life using nothing but diary entries and interviews of her daughter’s friends and acquaintances. Along the same lines, Sue’s questionable rationality mirrors the current publishing trend of psychologically unstable protagonists. The familiarity these elements bring to the novel does the story a disservice because readers will be unlikely to pay attention to Ms. Taylor’s stylized writing style and the fascinating tidbits she leaves as breadcrumbs for careful readers. For, the book is very well-written. Ms. Taylor creates an emotionally charged story that is aptly erratic given the various origins of Sue’s distress. She makes it easy for readers to slip into Sue’s shoes and empathize with her struggles to find answers and support her family even while considering her weak for not seeking help when it is offered to her. Unfortunately, all of her efforts remain hidden under the awareness readers will have about those similarities to other recent popular novels.
Before I Wake follows a long line of novels with unreliable narrators and the tangential questionable story-telling and motivation. It neither sets itself apart from the crowd nor blends in completely with its competitors. The narrative is taut, and the emotional complexity of the story is equally impressive. The question regarding Sue’s untrustworthy nature as storyteller remains ongoing until the very end, keeping the tension high and readers guessing. For all that though, there is a redundancy to the story that makes it easy to discard and even easier to ignore any nuanced clues. It draws on too many features from other stories to be truly original, while the emotional elements of the story are a bit manipulative. Before I Wake is an average mystery that ends up being a decent but forgettable distraction.