Robert J. Wiersema, Before I Wake

I expected Rob Wiersema's Before I Wake to be Literary Fiction. You know the type, highbrow Canadiana, all family angst and minor tragedies, perhaps alcoholism, probably a catastrophic affair, dubious parenting practices, that sort of thing. I like LF, don't get me wrong, but it can get predictable.

This wasn't LF. Or rather, it was, but it's several other things as well. Most obviously, it mixes the conventions of LF and ... popular fiction? is that the right term? yes? ... popular fiction to place believable characters in circumstances simultaneously believable and un-. I don't like giving plot summaries, because I don't want to cheat someone thinking of reading a book, but it's tricky to discuss this book without giving something away. The plot matters a great deal, even though it's very well written, with lovely prose style.

But I think it's safe to say that the book opens with a three-year-old girl being hit by a pickup truck on Hillside Avenue in Victoria, and follows the effect this has on her already strained family. When miracles seem to start happening, things get much more complicated, and wee Sherilynn becomes the most recent object in the Catholic Church's centuries-old struggle with the apparently miraculous.

It's the first novel set in Victoria that I can remember reading with as clear a sense of what the city feels like, too. The places are accurate and clear and named, unlike in Terence Young's distinctly LF After Goodlake's. Sense of place matters a great deal to me, and this one felt like home.

Before I Wake is no Da Vinci Code, thank goodness, but the history involved is just as old, and just as central to the Christian faith.  The action isn't nearly as gripping, but that's not what I read for anyway. The characters are seriously gripping, and the suspense kept me terrifically hooked. I didn't buy some of the late-stage historical stuff (we can talk about that in the comments, if necessary, to avoid spoilers), but there was real energy in this book.

Highly recommended, even to the mad atheist :-)


fiona-h said…
Oh Good! I will seek it out.
"...highbrow Canadiana, all family angst and minor tragedies, perhaps alcoholism, probably a catastrophic affiar, dubious parenting practices..."

You mean this has been done before?
richard said…
No, Zoot, actually it hasn't :-)

And Fiona, this is a recommendation I'm unsure about for you, setting aside the "mad atheist" holler! It was a really good read, but you know that even though I don't believe, I have a long-standing interest in other people's beliefs. This is a novel in which belief is an issue -- the narrative position certainly isn't messianic, and the characters aren't believers, but it's about the connection between miracle and belief.

I know how you feel about church, but what's your stance on the allegedly miraculous, anyway?

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