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Pickle Me This

June 24, 2007

Before I Wake by Robert J Wiersema

There are numerous conclusions which can be drawn by the fact I read Robert J. Wiersema’s Before I Wake— a 366 page novel– in the space of a moderately busy 24 hour period, but it’s the cliche I must emphasize beyond anything else: I couldn’t put it down.

Wiersema has an article in this weekend’s Globe Books discussing the comatose in literature in which he makes what he notes is an “obvious statement”: that “Characters in comas don’t lend themselves well to dramatic conflict”. Yet, in spite of this hindrance, Wiersema has created in his first novel dramatic conflict aplenty– between husbands and wives, wives and lovers, mothers and daughters, the media and the rest of us, the needy and the blessed, good and evil, God and Satan. Indeed the gamut is run, conflictually speaking, and at the centre of all of this is Sherry, a beautiful three year old who has been struck by a truck and lies comatose. The accident aggravates cracks within her parents’ already fragile relationship, but they are forced to work together when it is discovered that Sherry has been invested with healing powers– she cures her carer’s arthritis, two cases of cancer, and then the word gets out and the rest is a media blitz.

Not everybody is particularly pleased by Sherry’s miracles. “The Stranger”, dressed in black of course, sets out to disprove Sherry’s powers by any means necessary, recruiting others to his cause and placing Sherry and her parents in great danger. The man who’d been driving the truck that hit Sherry finds himself wandering around the city in a kind of limbo, finding some solace with others in his situation at the Public Library, where wisdom is sought in the obvious place (bookish delights). Meanwhile the crowds gathered outside Sherry’s window are getting larger– pilgrims who’ve come looking to be healed and protesters alike. Tensions build, forces collide, culminating in a supernatural showdown.

Though my own tastes tend toward realism, I readily accepted the world Wiersema had offered me. I was won over by its cinematic scope and ordinary emphases. The narrative was constructed just so, and I couldn’t rest without finding out what happened next. In spite of all the magic. And, yes, I do suppose, perhaps, because of it.

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