Click here to read reviewer Deborah Straw's take on Try Not to Breathe.
Seeking to redeem both her career and personal life after a precipitous fall from grace, former journalist Alex Dale is writing a spec article about recent advances in treatment of the neurologically disabled. Touring the neuro-disability ward at Turnbridge Wells Royal Infirmary after interviewing a physician, Alex recognizes one of the patients: Amy Stevenson, who was left for dead after an attack in Kent in 1995. Suddenly, the article Alex is considering has a more personal connection, Amy’s attacker never found. The same age as Amy, Alex remembers the case: a victim all but forgotten in 2010, imprisoned in a body without the ability to communicate with the outside world. The young doctor’s research seems all the more pertinent if he has found a way, even in the early stages, to communicate with patients like Amy.
Inspired by the current research and a desire to obtain justice for Amy, Alex feels an emotional bond to a young woman whose life was forever changed by a violent attack, a Sleeping Beauty with no prince to wake her. Hope surging on Amy’s behalf, Alex has little for herself, having thrown away career and marriage in a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior. She determines to do what she can to identify the person who doomed Amy to this silent existence, “managing” her private vice to reinvent herself and change the direction of a life gone horribly wrong.
The tale evolves on the dual track of Alex’s investigation of Amy’s attack and the detailed rituals the journalist has devised to control her excesses and succeed in reestablishing herself as a serious writer. Whether the advances in medical technology will bear fruit for Amy--or even if Alex will be able to control her impulses long enough to find Amy’s attacker--become secondary to the nightmarish ordeal of a
15-year-old girl who makes a critical mistake of judgment and survives, only to be trapped inside a body with no voice. Amy Stevenson, then and now, becomes a viable character as she inhabits the world, a starry-eyed teenager in 1995 and a woman slowly remembering her attack in 2010, stimulated by a weekly visitor who sits patiently by each bed in the ward and, recently, the woman who calls herself Alex. Removed from the events evolving around her, Amy is nevertheless formulating thoughts and memories, if only tangentially.
The back-story becomes relevant as Alex Dale stubbornly peels away the layers of Amy’s life before her ordeal, researching the boyfriend devastated by his girl’s senseless tragedy, uncovering family secrets buried under years of denial, even Alex’s painful history addressed as she seeks assistance from her police detective ex-husband. Links between then and now are meticulously untangled,
Alex prodding Amy’s former boyfriend for fragments that might yield information about that terrible night--even interviewing Amy’s stepfather, who was under suspicion for a time and has never been able to relieve the grief he bears.
The author crafts a believable if terrible story rooted in a young girl’s fateful decision, the human faces of these characters taking shape, suddenly falling into place with perfect synchronicity. Through the efforts of a soul-weary journalist seeking redemption, justice--long delayed--is served. An unexpected attachment to a new, albeit silent friend opens a door where the future awaits.