Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Try Not To Breathe



Maggie Gust


Try Not To Breathe
By Holly Seddon
Ballantine Books,
February 2016 – 369 pages
Genre: Mystery/Thriller


Anyone who enjoyed “The Girl On The Train” might like this book very much. I didn’t care for the Hawkins book, but I found this one intriguing. The protagonist, Alex Dale, is a self-destructive barely functional alcoholic with an enlarged liver whose life revolves around her wine consumption and urinary incontinence.

When we meet her in 2010, she has drunk her way through college, marriage to police officer Matt, a miscarriage, and a steady job as a newspaper columnist. She has recently been diagnosed with an enlarged liver which presses against her bladder, causing her incontinence especially at bedtime for which she wears adult diapers. Rarely does she sleep through the night, and often awakens not remembering anything beyond the first glass of wine from the night before. Sometimes there is someone else in the bed with her, his name and their acquaintance unknown.

Trying to get her professional reputation back, Alex is inspired to write the story of Amy Stevenson. A 15-year-old who disappeared before being found beaten almost to death shortly after she did not come home from school in 1995, Amy had been in a vegetative state for 15 years. Alex realizes that although she did not know Amy, they were about the same age and probably went to the same places in Edenbridge, enjoyed the same movies and music, etc. Told by the editor of the London Times that he would publish a four-page article about the story if she did a good job on it, Alex set out to regain her professional life. It is not long, however, before she forms a connection to Amy and it becomes more than just a good story to Alex.

Seddon does a good job of keeping the story moving along. The pace is very good, compelling the reader to propel through the pages. The format is told in chapters in the voice of various characters, including Amy, Alex, Amy’s 1995 boyfriend Jake, Jake’s mother, etc. Seddon notes the dates for the chapters as well since some of the characters were involved in events in 1995 as well as 2010. Amy’s chapters are initially dated 1995, but eventually we learn what she is thinking in later years about the people who visit her in the hospital, as well as her memories of the person who battered her. She and Alex form a bond during the hours that Alex sits at Amy’s bedside, playing a tape of Amy’s favorite music. The technique of voicing Amy’s impressions of what is going on when her neurologist examines her, when Jake or Alex sits with her, is very effective. Yes, the author took liberty with the research findings on brains of people in vegetative states, but it keeps Amy an important player in the story and in Alex’s eventual resolution of the story. It is a nice way to pique the reader’s interest and to layer the context of the story. About halfway through there is a pretty broad hint of “who dunnit,” but at the same time, the writer keeps us guessing until the end when we learn all the details.

The protagonist is an alcoholic, dysfunctional female, and her obsession with the next drink is a bit much at times, but she refuses to give up on Amy’s story or on Amy for that matter. The descriptions of her drinking, cravings, and general out of control behavior are very vivid. The character development was a bit uneven. We didn’t learn much about some of the pivotal players until almost the end. Still, Seddon does a quite nice job of leaving a trail of bread crumbs, then vacuuming them up for the reader in the last few chapters. Quite a satisfying read which I finished in two sittings. Very solid 3.5 stars. I will definitely look for her next book.

Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher, as well as various occupations in the healthcare field. She shares a hometown, Springfield, Illinois, with Abraham Lincoln, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, reading, movies and writing are among her favorite activities. She is self-employed and works from her Naples home.  Contact her at winetaster13@gmail.com or maggiesbookinblog.com

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