Lainey's husband, Jay, has been in a coma for weeks, now extending into months. She takes care of their daughters, visits him daily, finds what solace is possible with her resilient, tough-minded, and compassionate neighbor, Alice, and continues to believe he will wake up when the medical staff have largely given up hope.

As she sits with him, trying to adjust and foster her hopes, bringing familiar smells, textures, and sounds from home in the hope of triggering response, she imagines his state of mind. Interludes that work a little like prose poems suggest something of the liminal state he may inhabit. Lainey meets a fellow visitor at the nursing home whose wife dies after having been comatose for 6 months.

Lainey's life is kept from complete inward focus by Alice's efforts to keep her going out, and by Alice's own problems which include a straying husband who finally reveals that he's been struggling with homosexuality and has fallen in love with another man. Jay finally awakens and life returns to something like normal, but with an abiding awareness of the mystery of consciousness and memory, and a heightened sense of the preciousness of consciousness, choice, and the ordinariness of daily life.


Mostly interior monologue, this narrative is exceptional in its delicate handling of inner life with its strands of memory, imagination, desire, grief, frustration, rage, and hope. Even the intercalary passages that offer a speculative representation of the comatose state avoid the kind of fancifulness that would invalidate them as invitations to empathy.

The occasional comic relief provided by Alice and the scenes of ordinary life that show Lainey coping with single-parenting throw her solitary musings into sharp relief. It provides a thoughtful meditation on what it takes to live with ongoing uncertainty, loss, fear, and responsibility, and still sustain hope.


Random House

Place Published

New York



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