Books: A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke

I was at a writing conference not so long ago and during one of the talks it was mentioned by some literary agents that it has become common for novels to be written in present tense. Particularly YA and New Adult novels, but it appears that trend is spreading. Apparently, even books written as if the action has already happened (that is, in past tense) are already too passé for hip young readers. They need to feel like it's happening now. Because that's how they live, with every thought and moment posted on Twitter and captured for Instagram. Then immediately forgotten as they move on to the next thing.

While I wouldn't necessarily classify A Single Breath as NA—it's dealing with bigger issues than is typical for that genre—it is written in the present tense. And though I've read books where present tense works (His Fair Assassins series—it took some getting used to, but ultimately worked in the stories' favor), in this book there isn't enough action to merit a need for immediacy. Nothing is so exciting that the reader needs to feel a part of it, or "in the moment."

I agreed to review A Single Breath because I found the premise intriguing: A young wife loses her husband in an accident and then discovers his hidden past. Unfortunately, the main characters lack much color. Eva (the widow) trips from one crisis to the next (spoiler alert): her husband Jackson's death, a miscarriage, a fishing hook in her heel, discovering the truth about Jackson . . . She spends much of the book alternately moping and angry, which is reasonable under the circumstances, but not terribly interesting to read about. Even the big secrets were somewhat underwhelming. They had the potential to be huge, but the way they are treated turn them from potential mountains to speed bumps.

And then there is Saul, Jackson's estranged brother. And of course the love interest. He's set up as Jackson only better, of course, because his sins are merely of omission. Except he's very staid and pretty boring, too, and the attraction between him and Eva is rote and lacks fire. He spends a lot of the book dithering and keeping his thoughts to himself, which is also not all that interesting to read about.

Truthfully, the character with the most, well, character is Eva's friend Callie, but she doesn't appear in much of the book. Interchapters featuring Jackson's thoughts are also a nice touch; his voice comes through loud and clear and one almost wishes he were there for more of the book as well.

Something about the prose is so perfunctory . . . If you've ever watched a movie that went from plot point to plot point and then sagged between those points, this book is the equivalent. There isn't a lot of drive in it. Nothing that really compelled me to keep turning pages. I skimmed the second half of the book, only slowing near the end when the big (but predictable) twist of events came into play. And they are over so quickly, they are merely a blip when they could have made the bulk of a very intense story.

A Single Breath, then, is a tale of wasted potential.

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