Quill and Quire

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Holding Still for as Long as Possible

by Zoe Whittall

In her second novel, Zoe Whittall follows a group of twentysomethings struggling to cope with their complicated lives. Trapped somewhere between growing up and being grown-ups, these would-be adults hide behind excessive drinking and partying, and use text messages to relay their emotions.

The story focuses on three troubled young people: Billy, a former teen pop starlet who suffers from severe panic attacks; Josh, a paramedic whose ability to patch up injured patients parallels his inability to repair his own emotional damages; and Amy, a rich kid trying to live the Bohemian indie girl life while dealing with her first broken heart. All three characters are well crafted: at once unique, yet easily recognizable. To her credit, Whittall never shies away from displaying their flaws or their problems, from mental breakdowns to promiscuity.

The trio takes turns narrating, giving each part of the story a distinct voice and flavour. As the novel switches points of view, the story’s threads become increasingly intertwined. Initially these revealed connections between both major and minor characters add depth to the plot, but eventually they become somewhat tedious and predictable. By about halfway through, there aren’t many options left as to who will hook up with whom, and all of the romantic entanglements begin to seem a bit too convenient. Even the book’s climax is fairly obvious.

What offsets the shortcomings of the plot is Whittall’s talent for character. This is amply demonstrated in the four short sections depicting emergency scenes that open each part of the book. These vignettes are glimpses into the world of paramedics, with victims and supporting characters alike wonderfully sketched.