Disclaimer: An advanced digital copy of The Night Before was provided to me in exchange for my honest review. The Night Before will be released on May 14, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press.
Wendy Walker has a gift for writing about how childhood trauma manifests in adult life. Her debut novel All Is Not Forgotten, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2016, offered a particularly brutal look into the difficulties young sexual assault survivors’ face in carrying on with normal life, especially those who suppress their memories of the event. Her sophomore book, Emma in the Night, released in 2017, explores the life of a young woman who endured trauma in the form of mistreatment by a parent. Walker’s upcoming book follows much in the same vein, telling the story of a woman who, decades after witnessing the murder of her high school boyfriend, struggles to connect with men in appropriate ways.
While thematically The Night Before is quite similar to Walker’s past works, it struggles to live up to its predecessors. Where All Is Not Forgotten and Emma in the Night were fast-paced and full of daring twists and turns, The Night Before is much more introspective and slow, lacking the imaginative plots of Walker’s past two novels to drive it forward.
The novel unfolds for the most part over the course of one evening as Laura, a young woman who has recently moved in with her sister after a bad breakup, tries to venture back into the dating pool by spending a night out with a man she met online. Her sister, Rosie, struggles to understand her erratic behaviour. When Laura doesn’t return on time from her date, Rosie becomes increasingly concerned about her wellbeing. Rosie’s neurosis about Laura is the result of a traumatic event that took place when the two sisters were in high school. At an end of year celebration party, Laura was the sole witness to her boyfriend’s brutal murder, and became one of the main suspects in the criminal investigation. The crime rocked both girls’ lives, and sent Laura on a spree of dating terrible men and refusing to form lasting relationships.
The Night Before is told in alternating points of view between Laura – whose plot line takes place on the night of the date – and Rosie, whose story covers the day after the date and the search for Laura. While marketed as a suspense novel or psychological thriller, The Night Before doesn’t properly fit into either of those categories. There are moments of mystery and suspense, but for the most part the novel reads as a surface-level character study of a woman who’s never recovered from the trauma of her youth.
It would be unfair to call Laura a completely boring main character. Her history and life experiences are quite interesting, but have manifested in rather irritating ways in her character. She over analyzes the actions of each person she meets and spews an inner monologue of arm-chair psychology and self-pity. Her past is undeniably upsetting, but her present day over-compensation feels forced and unnatural. Her inner dialogue doesn’t translate well into written word. Making it more difficult to like her is the fact that she’s never described in any great detail. Laura’s character, while central to the story, is somewhat hazy and generic.
The Night Before’s plot is equally as lacklustre as its main character, revolving more around a bizarre first-date scenario than around a mystery. With no character to root for and no real twists and turns, the storyline fails to hold attention. If you are going to read Walker’s work – which I highly recommend you do – start with something other than The Night Before. It’s not a terrible read, but in comparison to the brilliance and excitement of Walker’s past novels it just isn’t as compelling.
You can order copies of Emma In The Night and All Is Not Forgotten through my affiliate links here. The film rights for All Is Not Forgotten were purchased by Reese Witherspoon’s production company and a movie is in the works.