Many thanks to our friends at Mindbuck Media Book Publicity for sending us a copy of Eight Minutes by Lori Reisenbichler. I knew from the moment I saw the wide-eyed child on the cover that this was going to be a novel that would challenge my thinking and warm my heart. I was right on both counts.
Eight Minutes is Lori Reisenbichler’s debut novel. I note this because the book is a terrific entry on to the literary scene, and I have every confidence that this author has much more to offer. Eight Minutes is both raw and eerie, and it may have you reading into the wee hours of the night. (Don’t misunderstand my use of the word eerie – this story is not frightening. I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that it offers a good haunting.)
Shelly Buckner became a mother the same time she almost became a widow. While giving birth to their son Toby, Shelly’s husband Eric was being brought back to life, following a devastating car accident. And when I say “brought back to life,” I mean this in the most literal sense. Eric was actually dead for eight minutes before he was revived.
It’s amazing what eight measly minutes can do to a family.
Bring the story three years forward, and you have a little boy who suddenly has an imaginary friend. The trouble with this “friend,” however, is that Toby seems to know just a little too much about him. Shelly starts to notice that Toby is providing very detailed information about this friend, whose name is John Robberson. As Toby’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, a picture of John Robberson quickly emerges. This includes what he likes to eat, what he did for a living, how he died…. and with whom he may have unresolved issues. The more Toby talks, the more Shelly’s alarms go off. She starts to keep a journal. She starts to do online research. Eventually, she seeks help from people who have their foot on other existential planes. You’ll root for her the entire time, thinking that you too would go to any length to put your child’s mind at ease.
All of this unravels as her husband Eric looks on. He asserts that Toby’s imaginary friend is just that, and grows increasingly agitated with his wife. (He actually turns into a colossal ass, which you will undoubtedly find infuriating.) And as this perfect, organic marriage starts to dissolve, the reader must grope with the possibility that Toby isn’t just a creative toddler. He may really be an earthly link to someone who is no longer of this world.
As her husband gets less and less tolerant of Shelly’s quest to discover the truth about John Robberson and his effect on their son, Shelly’s dilemma morphs. She now must choose between her existential sleuthing and keeping her marriage in tact. This is where I started to get immensely irritated with Shelly’s character.
Shelly, as a protagonist is fascinating. As the novel builds into an inevitable crescendo, Shelly finds her strength. Those moments are terrific. My only complaint is that for a good portion of the novel, she was too tearful. I’m not good with tears. I find them terribly distracting. The most weepy episodes were when she was interacting with her husband, and there were times when Eric’s behavior toward her was nothing short of despicable. Rather than telling him to climb a rope, however, she would sob with fear that he would leave. Good riddance, I would think to myself, and would silently beg Shelly to focus on her son. Let her husband have his own tantrums, and move on.
I bit my metallic-tasting tongue and pause before I answer. “Stop.” I attempt a feeble smile and reach to find a tone of voice that will pass for reassuring. “I get it, Eric. I told you I could control it. You’ll see. I can be the good wife.” (p. 160)
Moments like this was when I would question Shelly to the core. That kind of passivity grates on me, leaving me with my own metallic-tasting tongue. Please don’t get me wrong. My implication here is not that Shelly is weak. I just found it frustrating when such an intelligent character would allow a detractor to (temporarily) derail her efforts to get to the bottom of Toby’s imaginary friend. I found Shelly’s attempts to keep their marriage in tact out of place. Her intellect was above groveling for her husband to stay put. This woman was no fool, and I grappled with her readiness to forsake her intuition to keep her husband on an even keel. Shelly Buckner knew in her heart that the phenomenon that was spinning around her son needed intervention. She knew what she needed to do.
I’ve always believed that the slippery, porous boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness, between the physical and spiritual worlds, is most prevalent at times when we transition between states. That not-quite-awake, not-still-asleep feeling. The meditative hum of stillness like a lucid daydream. A here-but-not-here condition that only happens once we surrender the daily chatter in our heads. (p. 169)
Now that’s the Shelly I liked!
Now that all is said and done, I will happily and humbly admit that everything in Eight Minutes has its purpose, and I’m very impressed with how Reisenbichler brought it all together. While tackling a topic that could polarize readers, she touches on everything from souls to afterlife with grace and candor. Overall, the plot is very clever, and the story hits a breathless pace once you hit the halfway mark. That will be the moment that you will not be able to put Eight Minutes down.
I would also be remiss if I did not note that the ending might surprise you. It may make you blink a few times as everything settles into its proper place. AH! – you’ll think. Now I understand.
Well done, Lori Reisenbichler! I look forward to your next novel.
4 stars for Eight Minutes.