A survivor of a traumatic brain injury traces the path of a woman’s life before and after an accident in Xiao’s debut novel.
Mary, 39, is idling in the midst of a drawn-out divorce in California’s Silicon Valley. She’s interested in a film career, and she takes it as a sign when a teacher tells her it doesn’t matter what you know in Hollywood but “who you know.” After she’s reminded of a friend who’d dreamed of making a film but never did so, she finds a connection in Los Angeles to help her. After she moves to LA, she’s set up with a man named Mike. The two quickly fall into a romance, but it isn’t long before it sours: the strong-willed, reckless Mike breaks up with her at Disney World but still pursues her, even after stating that he wants to see other people. His actions later cause a life-defining change; he crashes his car while driving them home from the Renaissance Faire, and Mary sustains a traumatic brain injury. Afterward, she’s plagued by double vision, short-term memory loss, and numbness on her left side. Once released from the hospital, Mike takes sexual advantage of her and then kicks her out. Her new life is filled with PTSD-fueled fantasies of vengeance against Mike, dulled only by visions of angels who swoop in to soothe her. It takes her years to recover, but she eventually begins the journey toward making a film about her life. Xiao offers an uplifting and overwhelmingly comprehensive narrative of Mary’s accident and its aftermath, often told in long passages of uninterrupted conversation. Mike and Mary, in particular, read as complex and real. However, the book’s overreliance on dialogue renders other characters flat; a tighter focus on plot would have lended it much-needed tension. As is, the story meanders until the car accident radically shifts the pace halfway through the novel. After that point, though, the author effectively shows how Mary’s resilience and bright spirit allow for an inspiring, battle-born woman to emerge.
An often moving story of recovery and rebirth, but one that’s weighed down by excessive detail and dialogue.