Stay Awake is as flat as a wooden board when it comes to style and presentation. It does effectively evoke sympathy for its hapless heroine, but its monomaniacal plot and dry storytelling do it a disservice.
Liv Reese is in the middle of a nightmare. Waking up abruptly in the back of a taxi, she discovers her apartment is being rented by someone else and that, somehow, she has lost two years of her life. Scrawled all over her hands are multiple messages in ink that tell her to stay awake, no matter the cost. Then a body turns up in a nearby apartment, and the same message is scrawled in blood on a windowpane. Now Liv has two problems. Make that three – she has a form of insomnia that causes her to lose two years’ worth of memories every time she falls asleep. The last thing she remembers is answering a phone call at her place of business.
Two years earlier, Liv was a successful writer for the culture magazine Cultura (yes, really). She had a wonderful boyfriend and a popular, equally wonderful best friend named Amy. But two years ago Liv witnessed something so shocking, so horrifying, that it changed her life forever. If only she could remember it. Detective Darcy Halliday is investigating the murder, and her sights are set on Liv and the new murder.
As I said, Liv is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist and is understandably tense and highly wound. The problem with her tale is that it moves in such a dull, circular way that it’s apt to lull the reader to sleep instead of encouraging them to keep going. Stay Awake has a couple of moments of lunatic brilliance (Liv, on assignment for her magazine job, attends a bizarre performance art display at a local museum, a scene that has the weird energy of a Lynch movie and punches up at the bourgeois). But it’s told in the driest, most bloodless style possible. And don’t get me started on the author’s writing quirk of calling Darcy Halliday by her full name every single time she narrates a chapter. Not until at least thirty-five chapters in does Goldin manage to stop calling her “Detective Darcy Halliday.” It’s the closest Darcy gets to having a personality.
But then again, none of these characters speak in a natural, normal way. Even the coldest murderer reads like a staccato robot just blurting things out. So as closely as you’ll identify with Liv and want to find out just what her brain’s concealing from her, you’ll find climbing through the novel’s many problems to be a chore.
Every character in the book is a cliché. There’s the ex-military, by-the-book cop and her businesslike partner; the spunky best friend With a Secret; the perfect boyfriend with A Similar Secret. And the killer, who is absolutely covered by Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters.
One has to surrender to the notion of This Is A Thriller Plot And Things Happen That Way Because. Liv desperately keeps taking as much caffeine into her body as humanly possible to avoid sleeping, to the point where I kept wondering why she’s not yet dead from either too much caffeine or too little shut-eye. And then there’s the fact that she…well, I won’t reveal it. But if you pick up Stay Awake, you’ll have just as many problems staying conscious as Liv does.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier