On the night that Shelly Buckner finally became a mother, she very nearly became a widow. Her husband, Eric, seriously injured in a car accident on the way to the hospital, was dead for a full eight minutes before being revived all while Shelly was in labor. Those eight minutes changed everything Shelly thought was possible.
Three years later, their son, Toby, brings home an imaginary friend. But he s no ordinary playmate John Robberson is a fighter pilot and Vietnam vet. As Toby provides unlikely details about John s life and Toby s tantrums increase Shelly becomes convinced that John was real and now wants something from Toby. But her husband has his doubts, and as Shelly becomes involved, even obsessed, with finding out the truth, their marriage begins to disintegrate. Torn between protecting her child and keeping the peace with her husband, Shelly desperately searches for a way to finally put John Robberson out of their lives.
Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review.
This story starts with intrigue as well as drama and uncertainty which sets up the story for having a particular focus and leads you into thinking the story will head in a particular direction, which it does in a way, but it also quite different from what you expect. The narrative is well paced and Reisenbichler portrays the gradual development of the situation with John Robberson quite realistically. The situation develops slowly and there maintains a solid pace to show the increases of intensity and the gradual formation of the problem.
The strengths are in Reisenbichler’s ability to show and not tell in many instances. The growing strain on Shelly and Eric marriage, as well as the trouble of trying to navigate important conversations around a three year old is evident and it supports the story much more than if things were spelled out explicitly. The characters are compelling and real and many of the interactions are believable and suitable. As a character Shelly can be taken two ways, either as a seriously overprotective mother, or as someone who is trying to do what is best for her kid. She is clearly a mother who is trying to protect her son from something she believes may be a threat, but she is also trying to understand him and help him with the problem John Robberson is causing. It is clear she is trying to be a good mum so you cannot really fault her there, and understanding her point of view means it is hard to see her as being obsessive but it’s not impossible.
Where Reisenbichler uses the story, and her characters, well is how she shows both sides of the argument, and makes the readers understand them. Sometimes Shelley’s actions seem on point and reasonable, whereas other times Eric’s arguments seem reasonable as well, which makes the story even more captivating because it adds another level of tension and new possibilities to deal with that have been caused by the problem with Toby.
Being less focused on the paranormal element of the story means this is very much a middle-class reaction to the supernatural with Googling possible causes and theories being discussed during play dates. What I liked was that the mystery and search for an explanation is not instantly solved. The story takes place over several months which add a nice realism to it, but it also helps with the gradual progression and intensity of the problem. The concept is intriguing and the story is one that is mysterious and has a hint of the paranormal without it being full blown or overbearing.
There is mystery throughout a lot of the book as you try and work out what the truth is and what it could all possibly mean, and every theory is possible when you haven’t got a lot to work with. I did work out the ending from early on but the story does not necessarily head in one single direction making it evidently clear. Reisenbichler doesn’t focus too much on trying to create various theories though; instead she explores the consequence of the situation and works around it. This is not to say there are no other solutions explored, but Shelley is a driving force in providing possible answers and the narrative follows suite rather than trying to create multiple possibilities for the reader to develop. Reisenbichler is smart at keeping the mysterious nature ongoing, but never overdrawn or exaggerated.
After having a nicely paced and planned story it does wrap up suddenly but you have to decide whether you want more or whether you are happy with having some things left unanswered. Despite thinking it ended suddenly, I did like the ending. Reisenbichler wraps things up nicely but not too perfectly and she leaves an air of mystery which suits the nature of the story. Overall this is a curious story, and one that is certainly perplexing. It has an interesting concept but what Reisenbichler has chosen to do with it gives it a new approach and certainly one that is never quite what you would expect.
You can purchase Eight Minutes via the following