Don't Wake Up by Shauna Kelley

The quiet narrative of this novel brings upon the reader a melancholy tone, which resonates with the pain of losing a child and the wilting of a forced marriage. After twenty-some years of marriage, Gillian, who wed Ricky when they were young, due to an unplanned pregnancy, is distraught when her husband wakes from a short coma. Because he cannot remember anything after the age of fifteen, Gillian begins to plant false memories into his mind—memories of the happy family they never had. As Ricky recovers from the coma, he becomes a much kinder man than the husband she knew, who had numerous affairs, ignored her wishes, and secretly took money from his income each month and never told her where it went. Ricky’s newfound gentleness—paired with Gillian’s newfound infidelity—leads Gillian to grow guilty for her lies.

While the plot is occasionally a bit slow, inching toward boring, the inner world of the main character, Gillian, sustains the story, providing the skeletal support for the framework of the plot and keeping the reader interested in how Gillian will develop and learn from her mistakes. Much of the novel’s tension comes from Gillian’s morality—or lack thereof—seeing how far she can stretch the limit of her lies as revenge for the way Ricky treated her throughout the twenty years of their marriage, even though he cannot remember ever committing these terrible deeds.

The novel is short—perhaps too short—and because the pacing is slow, there is little action; all of the story’s conflict resides in the virtue of the characters. Many intriguing themes are brought up concerning dishonesty in marriage, the resentment caused toward the spouse after the loss of a child, and punishment and revenge versus forgiveness. Though the vague plot may not excite readers, the inner world of the characters and the morality of the story should spark some thought. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book is the off-balance good-versus-evil virtue of the characters, caused by years of slow breaking-down, cold silence, and financial and sexual manipulation. While Gillian is meant to be the novel’s protagonist at the beginning of the story, by the end, the reader sympathizes with Ricky, despite his awful flaws, because he deserves forgiveness. The way these two characters deal with the death of their infant son, both in uniquely destructive ways, has slowly torn them apart.

This is a sad, thought-provoking story that will interest fans of romance and melancholy literature.