Book Review: Stay Awake by Megan Goldin
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press | Macmillan Audio (August 9, 2022)
Length: 352 pages | 10 hrs and 59 mins
Memory loss thrillers have been done many times before, in many different ways, but Megan Golden has come up with her own twisty, mind-bending take on things. In Stay Awake, we follow Liv Reese, who wakes up one morning in a cab with no memory of how she got there. The last thing she remembers is working at her desk in Manhattan office, then nothing. When the cab drops her off at her apartment, at first she thinks the driver made a mistake. The building looks familiar, but when she rings the bell at the apartment she shares with her roommate, a couple of strangers answer the door, irritated at being woken up at such a late hour. Liv doesn’t have her phone or wallet, but insider her pocket is a knife wrapped in a bloody shirt. Looking down at her hands, she notices scribbles written all across her skin. One of the messages: STAY AWAKE!
While Liv may be confused as to what is happening all around her, readers are clued in almost right away. Our protagonist has a rare memory loss disorder, leading her to become lost and disoriented every time she wakes up, because in her mind it is still two years ago when everything in her life was perfect—she was rooming with her best friend, dating a wonderful new guy, and working at a trendy magazine for the art scene. But now she is alone in the middle of the night on a park bench, wondering why her whole world as suddenly turned upside down. Then, she spies a news report on a murder where the killer has scrawled WAKE UP! across a window in the victim’s blood. The message, so close to the one written on her hands, as well as the bloody knife sends Liv into a panic. She has no idea why she can’t remember anything, but until she finds out more about what’s going, she knows she must keep on running.
It’s understandable, the comparisons to 50 First Dates and Memento. Like the latter, Stay Awake is a narrative where you have to piece things together somewhat backwards. The story is told very cleverly through the creative use of the timeline and various POVs. One of these is Darcy Halliday of the NYPD, who is the hardworking and tough-as-nails lead detective on the murder case. And then of course there are the flashbacks to Liv’s own past, and her attempts to figure out why her memory seems to be stuck to a point in time two years ago. What happened to trigger her memory disorder? What has happened in all that time since? What happened to her best friend? Her boyfriend? Who are some of these people trying to help her now, claiming to know about her situation? Can she trust anyone?
Questions abound in this mystery thriller, and Goldin weaves together these disparate threads with such great pacing and momentum that once you start you just can’t stop. Speaking as someone who has also read the author’s previous two novels The Escape Room and The Night Swim, this one is perhaps the most exciting and propulsive yet. It might not have had the depth and emotional impact of The Night Swim, which is probably still my favorite book of hers, but Stay Awake definitely had a dark, enticing hook that gave the story much of its appeal.
And while it was a killer thriller, in many ways this story also read like a tantalizing police procedural, thanks to the chapters devoted to Detective Halliday who was easily my favorite character. Liv’s narrative, although very compelling, was also disorienting and quite scattered by necessity. Halliday’s POV therefore had the secondary purpose of pulling all the clues together and bringing cohesion to the plot.
In sum, Megan Goldin has written another crowd-pleaser. Mind you it’s not breaking much new ground when it comes to memory loss thrillers, but I did enjoy the tensions of the plot as well as the resourcefulness and tenacity of the main characters. So far the books I’ve read by the author have been very different, and while I expect she’ll come up with more ideas to keep things fresh in the future, I certainly wouldn’t mind if we saw Halliday and her partner Lavelle again in a future case. I’ll continue to follow Goldin’s work with interest.