Tuesday, March 1, 2016

TRY NOT TO BREATHE :: Holly Seddon

Her secret touched her waist like a man touches a woman. He opened doors for her, unlike the boys in her class, who bowled into corridors like silver balls in a pinball machine.

Fifteen-year-old Amy Stevenson has a secret. Unfortunately, her secret leaves her beaten and left for dead in a field behind her house. Fifteen years later, in 2010, Amy's world still consists of the inside of her head, subject to the persistive vegetative state she's been in since 1995.

Washed-up reporter Alex Dale sees Amy at the Neuro-Disability ward while visiting the hospital for a piece she's writing and smells a story in the waiting: Amy Stevenson: the biggest news story of 1995, lying in a human archive.

Alex needs a good story and a break. Her life is a mess. She lost her job and her marriage crumbled under the weight of her alcoholism, which is proceeding at a destructive rate, despite her rationed nightly drinks and efforts at hydration.

Who abducted and destroyed Amy Stevenson? Who is the mysterious "volunteer sitter" who regularly spends time at her bedside? Holly Seddon's Try Not to Breathe is the story of what happened to Amy and how Alex's efforts to uncover the truth impact her and those around her.

I have to preface this review with the fact that I went in with my shorts in a bit of a torque. No fault of the author's, but this was YET ANOTHER book compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I will try not to get on my soap box on this issue (a joint post with my pal Pop Culture Nerd is hopefully coming on that front soon), but it bothers me on two fronts: First, let a work stand on its own, not as a comparison to another work or works. Second, I loved Gone Girl and, well, did not love The Girl on the Train. So when I see books compared to it, it's not a point-maker in my book.

While Try Not to Breathe is based on a really interesting premise and has some aspects I enjoyed, in the end it turned out to be too much like The Girl on the Train, right down to my feelings about (or lack thereof) the main character and issues with the handling of her alcoholism. The portrayal just didn't sit right with me.

I mentioned Alex is trying to temper her drinking and its impact by rationing her drinks and drinking tons of water along with them. This leads to seemingly ad nauseam descriptions of Alex and her diapers, Alex having to get up and do laundry because she has once again wet the bed. Once would have been story-worthy. I get this is part of her life and self-destruction, but it felt heavy-handed and duplicative. "For the last two years, she had wet the bed several times a week, but she had never suffered serious dehydration." I mean, hydrating is important, but that's taking things a bit too far.

It wasn't that I didn't like Alex (though I really didn't). I read about characters I don't like all the time. As a fan of crime fiction, that's kind of my jam. The broken and bent are almost always most interesting. But I need something to hang my hat on with any character who is carrying a story and I couldn't find that hanger in Alex.

The romance story arcs also fell a bit flat. Maybe because I'm a huge brontosaur, I just can't see the seven month dating relationship between Amy and her teen boyfriend having the impact it did. Alex's relationship with her ex-husband plays a part in the plot as well, but probably because I couldn't connect with Alex I also had a hard time finding the realism in this relationship. Don't even get me started on the weird one-night stand thrown in.

It would appear this book got under my skin more than I realized. There were aspects I really liked. I'm a sucker for a multi-POV narration and thought Seddon pulled that off well, alternating between narrators and time periods. I was compelled by Amy's story, even though the outcome wasn't the bang I was hoping for. In the end, there just wasn't enough to push this read closer to the Gone Girl side than The Girl on the Train side.

STREET SENSE: If you loved The Girl on the Train, this one might be for you. I thought the story had a great premise and enjoyed the multi-POV style, but in the end the characters couldn't carry the day for me.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: They had lived their lives with no slow decline, just an emergency stop. And they were still in there, somewhere.

COVER  NERD SAYS:  This cover neither screams out to me nor turns me off. Which puts it in solid middle ground, maybe a worse place to be than on either end of the spectrum. It's difficult to impossible for me to tell what kind of book this is from the cover image. The title helps a bit, and I like the interplay of image and font. It all simply feels too amorphous to be helpful.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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