Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Wake up, Shauna Kelley (4.5 stars)

From Amazon: Gillian has always encompassed the vast space between pretty and ugly. In fact, she is painfully aware that there is nothing remarkable about her, until her husband Ricky experiences a mysterious fall that leaves him in a comatose state. As doctors and nurses rush to assure her that Ricky will recover well, Gillian thinks of the years of cold silence and manipulation that have overshadowed their marriage.

As the coma persists, Gillian dreams of a different life, one her marriage has denied her, and hopes Ricky does not wake up. Nonetheless, his eyes open to reveal a man who claims to remember nothing of his former self. Gillian, convinced that this is only a furthering of his past cruelty, seeks to test this new Ricky. She invents a family they never had, and fills his head with stories of an imaginary life. Ricky becomes a father, and an orphan, eagerly accepting magazine-clipped photos and an urn filled with cigarette ash as evidence of his once-happy life.

But, as Ricky persists in his assertion that he remembers nothing of their real past, Gillian begins to question how far she can go in punishing a man for sins he cannot remember committed.


Life is not always a Kodak moment, even though we want it to be. Gillian’s dreams have long been crushed, and she struggles to find any joy. Her husband, Ricky, is cruel and distant. When he has a devastating accident, a big part of her prays he won’t make it… that he won’t wake up.

Then he does, but without any memories of their time together. Gillian assumes this is another one of his cruel mental games, so she tests him. She makes up the life she wanted, filled with kids, love, and happy times. She even kills off his mother, a woman who has only added to Gillian’s years of misery.

Gillian’s struggles and losses broke my heart. She lost her child, her sister, her parents, and her marriage, but I ultimately found myself wondering… was Ricky really as bad as she remembered, or did Gillian's grief cloud everything? Did Ricky and Gillian just lose their way, or is Ricky truly heartless and cruel?

I'm sure some readers will have a difficult time with the uncertainty of the ending and general sadness of the novel, but I found it compelling, raw, and intensely honest. I love character-driven pieces, especially ones that I think about long after the last page.  

Thought-provoking and intense, Don’t Wake Up shows the slow decline of relationships under the stress of dishonesty and miscommunication. A line from the book keeps echoing in my head, “Sometimes, when something is broken, it simply can’t be fixed.” Too often, determining if it’s truly broken is intense and uncertain.

I highly recommend this book to readers who appreciate flawed characters who are finding their way and real life endings.

Rating: 4.5 stars
But worthy of a round-up to 5 for GoodReads and Amazon.

Check out my review of Shauna Kelley’s previous novel, Max and Menna here. For more information about the author, please visit her blog.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.