The Night Before: Wendy Walker
Genre: Psychological suspense
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Ravenclaw
Laura has never found “the one.” She must be content with watching her sister Rosie be happily married, unable to truly bond with any man after an incident in her youth. After she leaves her job and runs off to Rosie’s home in Connecticut, she decides to give things one more try. She signs up for online dating and decides to meet up with a man named Jonathan Fields.
While Laura goes on her date, Rosie sits at home and worries. She knows that Laura has had a troubled past, and when Laura doesn’t return home, she embarks on a search mission. Is Laura’s date who he says he is? Or has Laura done something terrible to him?
The Night Before is a domestic suspense novel that takes an interesting turn. Instead of a romantic affair, the tale is about two sisters, one who is flighty and troubled and the other who is more levelheaded. So what drew me to it? I liked the possibility of the protagonist being the bad guy. I also enjoyed the idea of sisters. In the end, it’s a challenging book to review. Is it about what happened to Laura? Is it about what Laura did or didn’t do years ago? Is it about family secrets that the book becomes muddled with? It doesn’t seem to want to decide.
Much of the book takes place within a 24-hour time frame, as Laura goes on her date and then doesn’t return. She’s still haunted by a tragedy from her high school past involving a guy that she sort of liked, and doesn’t fully trust herself. . Rosie can’t help but worry, so she enlists her husband and their childhood friend to help. As they do, more things begin to unravel. Ultimately, it becomes a tale of many secrets; this isn’t just Laura’s story. That’s where things get maybe a little too complicated.
The biggest problem is that it suffers from purple-ish prose. It’s hard to explain in the context of a review, but the text itself was essentially just…hard to follow. Laura’s chapters are narrated by her, and it’s clear that she’s a messy person. On pg. 72, on her date with Jon, Laura is talking about Rosie’s family and says, “I know my nephew. I do.” Now out of nowhere she’s wondering about if her nephew is who he says he is? Her two year old nephew who doesn’t really have anything to do with this novel? What was the point of those lines? The thoughts overall are just scattered; that’s just one example. Characters just start talking about something else. They use weird phrases–someone uses the word “whale” as a verb at some point. There are way too many incomplete sentences for my liking. Characters even sound the same–religious or not, I wasn’t impressed with the constant use of “Jesus Christ” as an interjection. Overall, Laura’s story felt more like a choppy first draft. Walker obviously had material to work with here, but it’s pretty much that. It’s not organized especially well. I think she made things too complicated with the addition of some irrelevant twists and turns involving a family secret and Jon’s identity. And then there’s the fact that most of what happens in the story really isn’t relevant to Laura’s issue, not to give too much away. Too much time is ultimately spent on red herrings and side characters that contribute nothing, like Laura’s roommate. There is another potential twist that doesn’t go anywhere about a family affair, and another about someone who Laura used to date, and probably more that I’m not thinking of. It’s disjointed, and that’s where it missed the mark for me. There are too many possible suspects and plots thrown in and many aren’t relevant, and at a certain point I wondered whose story I was reading.
The characters are…okay. Nor great, even. Laura drove me up the wall with her constant “woe-is-me” and “I’m sooo messed up and broken” attitude. She seemed to refuse any sort of change. Her date, Jon, isn’t especially interesting either. In fact, this date night, the plotline the story is supposed to be based upon, ends up primarily being a vehicle for the backstory to expose itself, and they don’t actually do a lot of dating activities. Rather, she just opens up to him about “that night,” or when she was accused of doing something terrible. Would you open up to a guy you literally just met by spilling every last detail on a personal tragedy that happened years ago? These two could have had an interesting night, but it just wasn’t, and I found myself tempted to skim these chapters. It read more like a therapy session.
The family dynamics should have been more interesting also. I like the idea of two sisters together. Of course, Laura chalks up all her issues to her missing father who ran out on them years ago. This is getting highly unoriginal. Not that we’re even sure that he is to blame. He’s just kind of a scapegoat in a larger picture. I would have liked to see Rosie and Laura’s relationship explored more, though, as it seemed more relevant here.
As for the ending, it’s more solid than ones I’ve read recently. The prose finally tightens up to focus on a singular issue: where Laura is. Now readers of this blog will know that I like an epilogue, just so I can learn how life continues on. This ending walks the line between knowing and fearing the future and does it pretty well. There are explanations given (though I would have liked a more definite answer to some questions), and Laura finds an answer to what she must do next, regardless if her life becomes happy or not. So, points for that.
I’m not sure if The Night Before works. I think it’s a collection of ideas that needs to be refined and expanded upon. I think there was opportunity for expansion on the sisters’ lives and it focused too much on the past. I think the writing style made it suffer more than it needed to as well. Organizationally, it tries to take on multiple plots which distract from the main purpose of finding Laura, or wondering whether she was the bad guy–and I don’t think many readers will peg her as the culprit there, so it’s wasted time. This is hit-or-miss really, and if you’re interested I certainly wouldn’t say you shouldn’t pick it up, but it wasn’t a highly memorable novel either.
Book Club Questions (spoilers!)
- Laura looks to her sister Rosie to find her ideal of marital bliss. Is all that it seems, or is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? Will Laura need a guy to complete her?
- How does parental involvement play a role in shaping the children of this book? Discuss the impact of parenting on Laura, Rosie, Gabe, and even Mason. Does it have any impact on how they turn out, do you think?
- What are the perils of online dating? Have you ever tried to create a profile? If so, how did it go? Did you choose to hide anything about yourself? Why might Jonathan want to hide his identity? To what extent does he show his true self?
- Why does Laura choose to act the way that she does? Is it because of her upbringing, or something else? Is she incapable of loving herself or does she choose not to?
- There are multiple cases of mistaken identity, or of a character not truly knowing someone they think they know. Consider Joe and Rosie, or Rosie and Laura, Laura and Mitch, or Laura and Gabe. How do you go a good portion of your life without knowing someone? How well can you truly know anyone?