If Only I Could Sleep

If Only I could Sleep coverIf Only I Could Sleep
By Stephanie Henry
Emerald Book Company
01 October 2013

I’ll be honest: Stephanie Henry’s story is really for her family and children. I was interested enough, despite its limitations, to see it through to the end, but it seemed to me that the author told as little of her life story as possible while still intending to explain her screw ups and life choices.

I can definitely relate to parts of Stephanie’s life story—and that’s really what this book is: an autobiography, not a memoir (and yes, they are different things). She starts at the beginning, her tragic childhood, and continues until the present day, the birth of her grandson. Unfortunately, that means she’s forced to simply tell the story (“This happened, and then this happened, and then this”) instead of taking us, as readers, on a journey with her through her lived experience.

Overall, it’s not bad writing, exactly, and the story has the potential to be compelling, but it just… falls flat. I kept reading because some parts of Henry’s life reflect mine, but what would interest someone on a completely different life path? A combination of morbid curiosity and schadenfreude could cause someone to start the book, but the reader must be made to care enough to finish it. It doesn’t feel like this book has done that, except possibly for someone who already knows the author.

That being said, I know how hard it is as a writer to tell the whole truth, especially when that truth involves childhood abuse, abortion, and less-than-socially-acceptable career choices, as Henry’s life has. I’ve done things (and things have happened to me) that I’m ashamed of and want exactly no one in the world to discover. Writing about the good and the bad is supremely brave.If only every writer (every person) were as brave as Stephanie Henry has proven to be.

Unfortunately, bravery does not automatically translate into good, engaging writing. If Only I Could Sleep just didn’t move me emotionally the way I hoped it would.

DISCLAIMER: I received an ebook copy of If Only I Could Sleep free from Greenleaf Book Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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