Thursday, February 28, 2008

Waiting to Surface by Emily Listfield

Waiting to Surface by Emily Listfield
Copyright 2007 - Released 10/07
Atria Books, General Fiction
307 pages
Finished ~ 2/17/08

What led you to pick up this book? It's an Advanced Reader's Edition that was sent to me by Simon & Schuster.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Sarah Larkin has been separated from her husband for several months, but nothing could have prepared her for the phone call informing her that her husband, Todd, has disappeared while spending a week in Florida. As the police and Sarah do their own digging for the truth, the mystery simply grows. Did Todd die the night he disappeared? If so, was it a homicide, suicide or an accident? Is it possible he's still alive? Would he really abandon their daughter, the only person who apparently gave his life any meaning?

During the investigation, with time passing and few clues arising to explain what really happened the night Todd walked away from his former girlfriend's home, Sarah must come to grips with her own feelings and help her daughter accept the outcome so that they can both move on and learn to love, again.

What did you like most about the book? This is an introspective work of fiction based on real-life events. The author's husband did, in fact, vanish in Florida. He was an artist, like the fictional Todd, and the author (like Sarah) worked for a magazine. I think the fact that the author left those details alone made the book more interesting than if would have been if she had fictionalized everything. Peeking into the life of an artist was particularly intriguing.

What did you think of the characters? I never warmed up to Sarah. In fact, the one thing that jumped out at me the most as I read was a question regarding the protagonist -- why was the character who personified the author's experience so difficult to warm up to? A friend who wrote to the author after reading the book told me that she felt that the author kept a distance from her character deliberately. I assume that was because the experience was so painful, but it did make the book a little more of a trudge. I liked Sarah's friend and co-worker Paige, Sarah's best friend Lucy, and the private investigator.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I enjoyed all of the scenes in which Paige described her dating experiences. Paige lightened things up a bit.

In general: It took me about 50 pages to get into the book and then the reading went pretty quickly; it kept my attention and I can't say it was a book that I regret reading. However, I had difficulty with the fact that the story was based on real-life events but not an account of what really happened; and, the fact that I never warmed up to Sarah made it an uncomfortable read. I think I would have preferred a factual account, if only to keep away those nagging questions about where fact and fiction merged. The blend of dark, tragic story with characters like Paige (who would have made an excellent chick lit heroine) was a little bizarre, but I appreciated the character because she injected a little humor into a book that could have been merely depressing. I'd call this an average read: 3/5.

This is a catch-up post. I'm going to try to work my way backwards on reviews, for a while. Waiting to Surface was #18 for 2008 and the first book I recorded after my calendar went missing.


  1. I really enjoyed your review Nancy. I've got this book waiting for me too. Interesting, I didn't realize it was based on actual events. That is a bit odd that the author chose to use that and turn it into fiction. I guess maybe that was the only way she could talk about.

  2. Iliana,

    Thank you! I kind of struggled with this one because I enjoyed reading the book and there were things I wanted to discuss with people, but it was definitely a bit odd not knowing to what extreme the book was fictionalized. It does seem like a strange blend. You're probably right; I would guess the experience was so painful that the author couldn't bear to tell the story as a memoir.

  3. This sounds like an interesting premise, yet could have been better executed(?). Which reminds me of The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

    I like seeing your bookshelves in your last post! And your stack from the library! I wonder what that other guy picked up....

  4. Tara,

    I guess the best way to describe the book is that it lacked cohesion. There was just a strange sense that it was trying to be two different things -- a literary mystery with an injection of chick lit. There were moments I thought that was a good thing, though, because I don't like a novel that consists of nothing but dark, dreary, depressing scenes. It seems to me that she was trying to show that in the midst of the horror, she had no choice but to live her life and there were light moments in that mix. Yeesh, I hope that makes sense.

    LOL! Isn't it funny how much enjoyment you can get out of looking at someone else's stacks? I was dying to know what that fellow stuck inside the sacks at his feet, but felt like I was lucky to get any of those ARCs at all, at the rate he was going. :)

  5. This book sounds so familiar to me for some reason. I wonder if I've read a previous review? I also wonder if it lacked cohesion because it was based on real events, and life itself is not as tidy as fiction.

  6. Dewey,

    Waiting to Surface was mentioned in PARADE magazine (as a recommended read), that much I know. I can't remember if I've seen other reviews or just talked about it with people in my book listserv. I just googled the title and didn't see any reviews by bloggers who are familiar to me.

    Real life is definitely not as tidy or linear as fiction, in general. So true. I suppose that's one good reason to fictionalize a story as open-ended as the disappearance of someone who never reappeared.

  7. I read this one a couple of months ago, and I never warmed up to Sarah either. I read from start to finish, but never cared for the book.

  8. Jenclair,

    There were bits I liked, but I think that was only because the book would have been ceaselessly depressing, had she not injected a little light in the form of Paige's character. And, yet, those parts felt wholly out of place, so it just didn't work for me.

  9. I never did get to this one. It kept getting pushed to the end until it sort of fell off my immediate TBR shelf. I quite enjoyed your review and do plan to get to this one one day.

  10. Wendy,

    I fell behind on my reviews for Simon & Schuster while I was running back and forth between states, so it took me a while to get to this one. It'll be fun to see what you think of it. I have mixed feelings about the book, myself, so it was not easy to review!


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