I don’t normally read romance novels, but I was asked to review The Waiting Room by Alysha Kaye, and I never turn down free books. However, now that I’ve finished the novel, I feel like I have little business reviewing it. It’s in a genre I don’t dare touch and for a market that very much isn’t me.
So when I tell you it isn’t very good, know that I’m out of my element here.
The Waiting Room starts off right after the death of Jude Floyd, who strangely doesn’t find himself in heaven or oblivion but a waiting room. He’s surrounded by people, and at a lone desk sits an old woman who sternly calls off the names of strangers. Jude’s name isn’t ever called though, so instead of being reincarnated, he’s left looking out a window, forever watching his true love—Nina—mourn, cope, age, and move on with her life.
Jude is an anomaly in the room: No one ever waits. Most people are only in the waiting room for a few minutes, but Jude is there for years. He believes he’s waiting for Nina, though those that run the place aren’t so sure.
The first two or three chapters of The Waiting Room are quite good, and Alysha handles the first-person past perspective well. Jude’s relationship with Nina is a bit too sickly sweet at points, and I couldn’t help but find his voyeurism creepy instead of romantic, but it’s that dichotomy that made me like the beginning of the book. The Waiting Room starts off as a romance novel pure and simple, yet at any second it feels like it could delve headfirst into horror.
Is Jude’s relationship with Nina really the “epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing,” or is he just obsessed with her in an almost stalkerish level? And if Jude is some kind of glitch in the waiting room’s process, then for him, isn’t it some everlasting hell instead of a new opportunity?
The answer to those two questions is, sadly, horrendously boring. The Waiting Room had ample opportunities to play with my expectations, yet it never once did. The novel takes what is a really cool premise and plays it as safely as it can and within (what I assume are) the perfect constraints of the romance genre.
Jude and Nina die, live, die, live, and die some more, and each time they wind up in the living world together. After every death, they wait for each other in the waiting room. This is strange—everyone thinks so—but the novel never presents it as anything more than true love.
Their repeated lives are sectioned within chapters, but after the second set of Jude X Nina, they all feel unnecessary. The reader knows how they’ll end—together, in love, and eventually dead—so there are no surprises to be found. They feel like needless padding, and it doesn’t help that the last two chapters are nothing but little vignettes of essentially the same exact story.
The Waiting Room isn’t a long novel, but it should be much shorter than what it is. The last thirty pages alone could all be removed and change nothing.
I enjoyed Kaye’s writing style in the first few chapters, but at a certain point, things start to falter. She switches up perspective first, going from Jude to Nina, which was a little confusing at first. However, somewhere in the middle of the book, she goes from first-person past to third-person past for no conceivable reason. The whole section feels like a break in style/formatting and nothing more.
Kaye then switches back to Jude for a time, and as the book nears its end, perspective is jumping all over the place, making some passages very hard to follow. There’s one vignette near the end that’s nothing but a set of love poems, and I have no idea whose is whose, even after rereading them.
On the topic of formatting, The Waiting Room is filled with little errors that make me feel like it was self edited. Sometimes thoughts are in italics; sometimes they are not. Sometimes titles of artwork are in italics; sometimes they are underlined. Sometimes periods are inside quotation marks; sometimes they are not. The book doesn’t bother keeping a style guide, and it is noticeable.
There are also a handful of typos and two handfuls of missing commas.
Throughout the novel, we never learn who is actually running the waiting room. There are plenty of thoughts and theories, but nothing concrete. The Waiting Room tries to examine religion and faith, but I don’t really think it does so well. Jude plays the role of cynic, that there is no God and that the waiting room is just some part of life that evolved, but that answer sounds pretty stupid given everything going on around him.
Whatever the answer is, it’s never given, and I found that less than satisfying given how important the question is.
The Waiting Room starts off with a solid premise but quickly falters. It’s a first novel, and that shows, both in the writing and in the editing. The perspective switches get tiresome, and the section written in a completely different style feels out of place. The ending feels padded, and ultimately, isn’t satisfying. True love makes for fine motivation, but it makes for a terrible conclusion.