Before I Wake


371 pages
ISBN 0-679-31373-7
DDC C813'.6




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Bookseller and reviewer Robert J. Wiersema’s engrossing debut novel
opens with every parent’s worst nightmare. While crossing the street
with her mother, three-year-old Sherry Barrett becomes the victim of a
hit-and-run accident. Confronted with the news that their comatose
daughter will never wake up, Sherry’s devastated parents agree to have
her disconnected from life support. The young girl defies medical
expectations by surviving, but she remains in a coma. In the meantime,
Henry, the driver of the truck that hit Sherry, finds himself in
purgatory following a guilt-motivated suicide attempt. Trapped in this
twilight world, he soon encounters a tribe of lost souls headed by a
mysterious figure named Tim.

When word gets out that Sherry has the power to heal the sick and
dying, her agnostic (and now separated) parents can’t bring themselves
to turn away the desperate pilgrims who show up at their door. As it
morphs into a made-in-Victoria Lourdes, the Barrett home becomes ground
zero for an all-too-predictable media circus. More ominously, Sherry’s
miracle-performing ways incur the wrath of a sinister priest and his
thuggish followers. As Wiersema’s literary thriller unfolds, we learn
that Tim and the priest are key players in an ongoing metaphysical war.
A redemption-seeking Henry becomes a willing recruit in that struggle.

It takes a while to adjust to the author’s somewhat promiscuous use
of multiple first-person narratives, but in the end they enhance rather
than diminish the novel’s effectiveness as a page-turner. Supernatural
underpinnings notwithstanding, some of the most powerful moments in
Before I Wake are grounded in realism. It should come as no surprise
that Wiersema’s depiction of parental grief is especially shattering.


Wiersema, Robert J., “Before I Wake,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024,