REVIEW: Sleeping With Friends by Emily Schultz

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This was an Amazon First Reads offering. Blurb time:

When Mia Sinclair-Kroner wakes from a coma, all she can remember are the movies she’s known and loved. Her college friends quickly assemble for a weekend party, in an effort to help her remember. But with old friends come old wounds, and it soon becomes clear that Mia’s accident might not have been an accident at all.

Was it Agnes, driven by her unspoken resentments? Or Zoey, who covets everything Mia has? Have the years apart only fanned the extinguished flame between Ethan and Mia, compelling him to violence? Or did Victor, who moved away, return with an agenda? Or was it Martin, the wealthy husband, who put a country estate between Mia and her past?

As old tensions and new suspicions rise, these friends must wade through their film knowledge, shared history, and everything that’s kept them apart in order to figure out which one of them is trying to end things once and for all.

I chose this from the Amazon First Reads offerings because it had a couple of elements that usually entice me: a group of college-to-adulthood friends and the “everyone gathers in a house and takes turns being the focus of suspicion” trope (there’s even a storm at one point!).

There are three narrators:

Agnes: a gay Midwestern transplant to New York, Agnes has not achieved her professional goals (she’s in a dead end job in the publishing industry, rather than being a writer herself as she’d planned). She is experiencing some significant financial troubles and is in danger of being evicted from her apartment. Agnes has nursed a crush on Mia for their entire friendship, one that seems sort of obsessive at times. But she also appears to have been a good friend to Mia.

Zoey: she lives with her long-time boyfriend Ethan (he was one of Mia’s rejects). Zoey is a bit tightly wound; she is resentful of Agnes, who she sees as a rival for Mia’s attention. Zoey is trying to get pregnant and it’s suggested that the injections she’s taking are making her a bit edgier than usual (she isn’t really warm and fuzzy under the best of circumstances). Zoey and Ethan have a Youtube show about movie continuity errors that has become successful.

Mia: the It girl, and as is often the case with It girls in books, I didn’t entirely see the appeal. But she’s an interesting character (more on that in a moment). She’s another person who isn’t where she thought she’d be in life (a theme in this group). Mia has married Martin, an older, wealthy businessman, a move her friends widely saw as settling for comfort and security. They split their time between their New York brownstone and a house in the country in Connecticut.

Several other characters show up or end up at the get-together, which Agnes has organized as a girls’ weekend, a “remembering party” for Mia. Ethan, who is both under Zoey’s thumb and rather pathetic in his naked longing for Mia, manages to Uber from New York to Connecticut (he doesn’t drive) on the first night, in spite of being explicitly not invited.

Mia’s older sister Stephanie is also there. Mia seems to trusts Stephanie the most, even though she doesn’t remember her. (I didn’t feel like the parameters of Mia’s memory loss were well defined.)

Cameron, Martin’s teenage son, who Mia seems to have vestigial motherly feelings for, is around for the weekend and chimes in with some background on what was happening the night Mia was hurt. He is defensive of his father but also lets the group know that Mia and Martin fought that night.

Martin himself, Mia’s seemingly concerned and solicitous husband, is in and out of the house early on in the book and then pops up in a surprising way later.

Rounding out the group is the mysterious Victor, who shows up in person about halfway through the book. He is part of the college group but seems to have mostly separated himself from them in adulthood; he’s the only one who’s not still in New York, having moved to Los Angeles.

The film angle felt a little shaky; I had somehow missed the mention of it in the blurb above, so it took me a while to catch on to the various references. In college Ethan, Victor and Zoey had been film students; Agnes and Mia (English majors) met them when they were all enrolled in a film class together.

Mia at first identifies the other characters, none of whom she remembers, as movie characters or actors – she calls Ethan “Ducky” (from Pretty in Pink) and Martin “Clive” for Clive Owen. The references get a little more heavy-handed as the novel progresses. The whole thing honestly felt more like a conceit than something organic.

The cohesion of the friendship group was also shaky, but perhaps that’s realistic? There are stronger bonds between Mia and…well, everyone, than the characters have with each other. Zoey and Agnes almost seem more like frenemies, forced into proximity by their mutual desire to be around Mia. It feels like Ethan has mostly stayed with Zoey due to ennui and the fact that Zoey was a pipeline to Mia. Victor really seems to have drifted away from the group almost entirely, though a secret relationship is revealed late in the book.

The early chapters establish the relationship between Agnes and Zoey and introduce us to post-incident Mia. The ostensible accident was her slipping and hitting her head on the corner of the marble countertop in her kitchen, but that’s mostly conjecture since Mia doesn’t remember anything, and various characters have their reasons for being uncertain about what really happened. It’s natural that their suspicions turn to each other, given that they all have uneasy feelings about each other’s relationships to Mia.

What made Mia interesting to me was that, as someone who didn’t know herself in relation to these people, she’s almost like an outsider looking in. She concludes that maybe she wasn’t the greatest person or friend, and I had come to a similar conclusion, so I felt in sympathy with her on that. It’s not that pre-injury Mia was a villain, but she exerted her considerable charm often to the point of manipulating people, even her friends. She wonders the same things her friends have wondered, about her relationship with Martin and whether she just gave in to being a trophy wife. She’s in the odd position of sort of “meeting” herself and being unsure that she actually likes herself.

The pace is a bit uneven – as with many suspense novels, the early chapters are sort of scene-setting and the action comes at the end. There’s an odd but admittedly quite funny descent into farce late in the book, where somehow the group decides that VOTING on who they think attacked Mia is the best idea.

The guilty party was not surprising and in fact the revelations are pretty straightforward. There are some nice central-mystery-adjacent twists and a relatively happy ending – at least happy enough for a story where someone is almost murdered. My final grade is a straight B.

Best,

Jennie

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Jennie

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she’s read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she’s had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she’s not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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