I’d passed Before I Wake in the bookstore umpteen million times, and it itched at me, as books do, but I passed it by. If you read the copy on the back of the book, it will tell you that young Sherry Berrett gets struck by a car and falls into a coma (yes, Robert, a coma, not a catatonic state—fool me once, etc). Her parents eventually make the heart-breaking decision to take her off life support, and then—when she doesn’t die—there’s all sorts of talk about miracles and whatnot. At the time I was walking past Before I Wake in the bookstore I had a “no Jesus” policy. A friend and I had been talking, and we noticed that in the popular media—television in particular—religion seemed to be tacked on to everything, whether it needed it or not, and particularly a sort of lukewarm, non-committal Christianity. Regardless of whether or not this actually describes Wiersema’s book (and it doesn’t), that’s what was going through my head when I read the word miracle. I finally picked it up because Quill & Quire had asked me to review his latest novel, Bedtime Story (review here), and I wanted to get a handle on his previous work.
It’s not often I make a positive comparison to Stephen King. The man is sometimes a great storyteller, but he long ago became more of a commercial entity than anything else, and I want to make it clear that I’m talking about King back when he was merely a famous writer and a not a franchise. Anyway: onward.
Wiersema writes in a very clear, straightforward voice that does its damnedest to get out of the way of the story and the characters without ever succumbing to the airport-bestseller sloppiness that such a style can sometimes slide into. Before I Wake was an engrossing, King-ish page-turner (I think I read it in just two sittings) that actually made me care about the characters. Simon and Karen Barrett’s pain felt genuine and they never devolved into engines of grief (a phrase I stole from a review of the season finale of The Killing that I can no longer find the link to), and the big surprise was how much I began to sympathize with Henry, the driver who struck down Sherry. Henry enters a kind of shadowy world of lost people reminiscent of London Below from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but less magical and more genuinely disturbing. I won’t spoil it for you, but there was just the right amount of Jesus to make everything fit together nicely.
Before I Wake was my eleventh selection for the Fourth Canadian Book Challenge.