It’s the phone call Lexie dreads. The one in the dead of night from her sister Annie who needs her help – yet again. This time though it’s not just money or a shoulder to cry on that her sister needs. It’s worse, far worse. A crisis that puts Lexie on the precipice of an impossible decision, one that will change lives, maybe ruin some.
And there are no safety-nets. Whatever decision Lexie makes in Before I Let You Go, Kelly Rimmer’s heartrending story about two sisters with an unbreakable bond, it has grave implications. In a plot that poses some nitty gritty questions sure to provoke fiery exchanges in book clubs, the internationally bestselling Australian author has delivered a cracking good read written with wisdom and compassion about our closest relationships.
The story begins when Lexie, a physician who is accustomed to receiving emergency calls in the dead of night, wakes up to a call from her sister Annie, who is high on drugs and believe she’s dying. Lexie has no idea how drastically her life is about to change. Although she urges her drug-addicted sister to call an ambulance, Annie doesn’t want to go to hospital because she’s pregnant she confesses, and terrified authorities will take her unborn child away.
Lexie and her new fiancée, Sam, jump into the car and search for the obscure trailer park Annie calls home. When they find her, Annie is but a shadow of her former beautiful self, but, deeply distressed at the idea of having to give up her baby, she fights the idea of going to hospital.
Based on the promise that they’ll protect her, no matter what, Annie’s finally coaxed into going, but at the hospital this pledge proves harder to keep than expected. Fuelled equally by a sense of guilt and blind loyalty, Lexie protects her junkie sister against the palpable scorn from medics who clearly have no sympathy for a pregnant addict. In Alabama where this story is set, it’s a criminal offence to jeopardise the health of unborn child by ingesting drugs while pregnant, so when the cops arrive and station themselves around Annie’s hospital room, and Child Protective Services show up on the scene, Lexie realises that she must fight against all odds to protect her sister.
Rimmer’s novel enters an interesting dialogue with contemporary ideas of addiction-as-illness in both the medical and – probably more poignantly – public domain. With great empathy, she humanises the ‘junkie experience,’ which is often demonised as an act of selfishness rather than an illness needing a cure. We witness Annie’s best and worst self. As well, Rimmer asks the glass-cutting question: how much sympathy (if any at all), has the general public for women who use illicit drugs during pregnancy?
Wedged between each chapter are entries from Annie’s diary, in which she writes to the mysterious Luke in the aftermath of her father’s death. It reveals shocking secrets about the sisters’ past, secrets that explain how Annie began her descent into drug addiction and despair.
Before I Let You Go is clearly fuelled by a sense of injustice and anger at the way legal institutions all too often de-humanise victims of misunderstood illnesses, such as addiction. It’s what gives the writing its power and edge and energy, while vividly illustrating the pitfalls of taking a black and white view of people whose lives are complicated in ways we can’t even begin to understand.
Above all, this novel is testament to Rimmer’s acute reading of the human heart, and of the intense bond between siblings no matter how tough the going. Through them we are reminded that some decisions in life are anything but clear-cut, especially where love and potent childhood experiences are involved.
Emotional, illuminating and gripping, Before I let You Go is highly recommended.
About the author
Kelly Rimmer has sold 600,000 digital copies of her previous four novels: Me Without You, The Secret Daughter, When I Lost You, and A Mother’s Confession. Before I Left You is Kelly’s first novel published in print – and what a fine print debut it is. Kelly lives in rural NSW with her husband and two ‘naughty’ dogs. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages.