Suzanne Redfearn’s “In an Instant” (2019) is a remarkable book, which manages to be fast-paced and easily accessible to the casual reader, yet deeply satisfying and perceptive, providing insight into the nature of grief and loss I hadn’t expected in a book so entertaining.
The book’s title refers to the main character, 16-year-old Finn Miller, whose life is over in an instant when the van her father is driving crashes through a guardrail in a snowstorm and tumbles down the side of a mountain. What had been planned as a fun skiing trip for Finn, her family and their friends turns into a struggle for physical and emotional survival for those Finn leaves behind.
Because her death has left such disruption in those who survive the accident, Finn finds herself unable to let go of the life she once lived. She observes the grief her mother, Ann, feels; the rage her father, Jack, battles; the despair her sister, Chloe, experiences; and the emotions the other characters struggle with as they grieve.
There are Ann and Jack’s friends, Karen and Bob Gold, and their daughter Natalie. Bob’s actions before and after the accident provide tension, a bit of mystery and that page-turner quality. Yet, Bob’s actions as witnessed by Finn also provide insight into the nature of grief and regret and the choices we make in an effort to survive.
It is Finn’s best friend, Mo, who provides such poignancy to “In an Instant.”
On one hand, Finn wants her best friend to be happy, to move on — go to prom, fall in love, get married. On the other hand, Finn is jealous that her own life has been cut short and she’ll never have the opportunity to experience life as Mo does.
Redfearn writes in present tense from Finn’s point-of-view.
Other reviewers have noted Redfearn’s problem with attempting to emulate the jargon of a 16-year-old, mentioning that Finn would be unlikely to use the word “bureau,” for example. Until I read that particular review, I hadn’t even thought about Finn’s voice, but the critique is warranted.
I did have an issue with how Redfearn portrays Finn’s death and afterlife. Because the narrator is a character who is dead yet still commenting on life, I considered “In an Instant” to cross over from being strictly contemporary fiction to being speculative fiction as well.
Because of that quality, I’d have preferred Redfearn developing the idea of an afterlife a bit more than she did.
For example, I wondered why Finn never met any of her other relatives in the afterlife. It was okay if she didn’t, but I wanted Redfearn to explain that in greater detail. Was Finn simply in a waiting room for the afterlife?
Regardless of my rather minor quibble, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
It was fun to read. It was emotional; I found myself crying at times. And, probably the greatest tribute a reader can offer an author, the book stayed with me, and I expect it will for quite some time.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. She’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)