Book Review: Stay Awake
Amnesia is a well-worn plot in fiction, driving stories in soap operas, romance, mysteries, and thrillers. The best writers are able to make the cliché feel fresh and different. Stay Awake, thriller author Megan Goldin’s third novel, may be her best yet. She combines the 2000 film Memento with domestic thriller tropes in a book that is “unputdownable.”
When Liv Reese wakes up on a park bench in New York City, her purse and phone are missing and her hands are covered with her own handwriting. “Stay awake! Wake up!” With strangers in her apartment and her boyfriend’s phone number disconnected, eventually Liv discovers she has lost the last two years of her life. At the same time, detective Darcy Halliday is the first officer on the scene of a homicide—an unknown man in a high-rise apartment has been found dead. The only clue: Someone has written, on the window in the victim’s blood, the message: “Wake up!”
What happened to Liv in the past two years? Is she a victim or a killer? Will Halliday find out the truth before it’s too late?
Stay Awake pulls readers in from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. Told mostly from Liv’s first-person account, moving from present to past and back again, the reader becomes fully immersed in Liv’s fear and frustration. As she learns about the killing and that a woman matching her description was seen leaving the building, she races to find out what really happened and if a killer is after her.
When the events from two years ago unfold, though, Liv comes across as naïve and trusting. Since Goldin establishes Liv as the victim of a troubled childhood with a neglectful mother and a series of narcissist stepfathers, I found her trusting attitude a little hard to believe. Halliday is less well-rounded, and her point-of-view seems to be presented mainly so readers can get a look at the mystery outside of Liv’s purview.
While the scenes from the past don’t have the same breathless pace and stakes of the present-day sections, Goldin does a good job of using them to set up the possible villains. The final reveal makes sense, although I wished Goldin had spent more time laying the groundwork for the conclusion.
Almost impossible to put down, Stay Awake is a terrific book to add to your end-of-summer beach reading list. Goldin’s few, small missteps don’t take away from the wild roller coaster ride she presents.