Kerena Swan’s “Scared to Breathe” (Bloodhound Books, 2019) has an interesting premise, a thirty-something woman witnesses a stabbing and then becomes frightened that the knife-wielding mugger (or his friends) will harm her. The possibilities are all there, an endgame and human emotion running toward the edge, except none of this tension made it into “Scared to Breathe”.
Coming home from a late night in London, Tasha is alone in a train car with a drunk man harassing her. This bit was spot on as the reader felt Tasha’s fear and the constant questioning of herself, “I’ve made a mistake in choosing a seat with a table.”
But after the mugging/stabbing scene on, the book was a struggle. Though the germ of this novel and the subsequent story were more than good enough, Swan’s novel has some issues.
When Tasha goes from heroically saving a man’s life to being too scared to want to testify in court, though believable, how did this change occur? Covered in blood, Swan has her main character do an about-face in twenty-some-odd words. This at-odds motivational change happens several times throughout and is noticeable in the relationship between Tasha and her fiance, Reuben.
Reuben’s dialog sounds off, it’s unnatural tone makes his character stilted. At a party, he is asked by his father how his job is. Reuben responds:
“Good, thanks. I’ve managed to secure some great accounts recently which is great for my career prospects. We’ve just branched out to do the marketing and retail rights for food at festivals. I’m currently working on a four-week strategy.”
No one talks like that. That’s writing, not dialogue.
Books like Swan’s “Scared to Breathe” are meant for quick consumption and fast page turning. Swan hit those marks chapter by chapter, but in the end, even though the story was there, the telling was not.