Natalie Jennings is not having an outstanding year. She suffered several miscarriages, and her husband, Greg, left her for Angela, who immediately got pregnant and soon became wife number two. Greg’s assistant Emily was killed, and Natalie accidentally found the body while on a midnight walk, immediately conferring upon herself the suspicions of the police.
Cassandra Morphy’s novel, The Awakening (Crowbarland Books), opens in media res, with Natalie pinned under Greg’s corpse just after she’s stabbed him in the neck with her keys, in the backyard of the house they once shared, while Angela watches from the master bedroom, calling the police. Detective Bently is all too happy to have Natalie back in the interrogation room with fresh blood on her hands.
Natalie is the very definition of an unreliable narrator: a stark-raving schizophrenic on only a half-dose of medication. The worlds outside and inside Natalie’s head bleed into each other in ways that drive the plot and leave the reader in a perpetual state of uncertainty as to what is real and what is not.
Natalie has been plagued all her life with voices in her head. Two of these voices (those of her father and a young man named Tom) are soon joined by others as the book progresses. Where are the voices coming from? Turns out, Natalie has a lot she isn’t admitting to herself.
Her “delusions” aren’t limited to hearing voices, however. Events happen, but we can never be sure whether they have really happened. In Natalie’s world, a second plane never hit the World Trade Center on 9/11 because it was stopped by an alien. Throughout the novel, this alien reappears, in Natalie’s memories, on Wanted posters at the police station, and in other places. Is it an actual alien or a manifestation of her mental illness? Or is the “real world” not the same world we think it is?
Natalie is stalked by the press, befriended by the most unlikely people, and finds herself falling for someone she thought she hated. She’s lost her alimony, been evicted from her home, and her unraveling state of mental health renders her job prospects virtually nil. Finally, her doctor commits her to Holy Trinity Psychiatric to get her medication adjusted, vanquish all of her voices, new and old, and get Detective Bently off her back. But the enemy isn’t who her doctor thinks it is, and the voices might be her only saviors.
The Awakening is a recently-released entry in Morphy’s Crowbarland Chronicles series. On the author’s Facebook page, she describes the concept behind the books in more detail: “Crowbarland is a bubble timeline created by the events in [the first book of the series] In Time for Prom. The temporal effects caused by the creation of the bubble timeline has altered several events over the 21st century and created several others into the future.” These events, presumably, are the basis of the other books in the series, which at this writing spans eight titles.
Bubble timeline or no, The Awakening leaves readers plenty to be uneasy about. Read it with the lights on.