Book Review: The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell

The Waiting Hours – Shandi Mitchell (Viking, 2019)

I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of this book. It is scheduled for publication on April 30, 2019. All opinions are my own.

The Waiting Hours is the story (or maybe stories is more accurate) of those who work behind the scenes, those who work in the night, who wait for disaster to strike and who are first on the scene to help.

Kate is an ER nurse who also works in search-and-rescue with her dog Zeus. She’s dedicated to her jobs but her personal life is kind of a mess and her personal history is full of hurt and complications. Tamara is a 911 dispatcher who survives by living a strictly regimented life, separated from the rest of the world. Mike is a police officer who is very quickly spiralling out of control.

The setting is Halifax, in a summer of unbearable heat, a city on edge after a shocking crime. As I began the novel I expected that these three characters would be drawn together by a single event but in fact, their paths cross and diverge in multiple ways. This feels more realistic as these three work in similar fields on similar schedules in what is a fairly small city. Instead of a single, dramatic convergence, we see the similarities and differences of their jobs and how they support each other. This is one of the several strengths of The Waiting Hours.

Mitchell does an admirable job of portraying the stresses and triumphs of jobs like this. They are stressful to read about and, I’m sure, even more stressful to live through. These are roles in our society that we all rely on but rarely think about. My own interactions with ER nurses and police officers have, thankfully, been brief. I called 911 for the first time in 2017. So while I can’t speak to how accurate these stories are, they feel honest. In one scene, Tamara pictures the city around her with different coloured dots. The dots represent events that have occurred – calls she has borne witness too. Violence, death, tragedy. Some places are covered in these dots. Some are free of them. Police officer, nurse, or 911 dispatch, they all have repeat customers. Much of the tragedy of life is not completely random and the book explores that in interesting ways.

Kate’s personal life is an example of this. Her mother is in a coma in the same hospital where Kate works. This leaves no one to care for Kate’s mentally ill brother though Kate knows the task is left to her. It is a story she has been living for years and one she avoids by throwing herself into her work helping others.

While the setting of Halifax is never explicitly named, Mitchell does a nice job of making it clear through references to the Halifax Explosion and the destruction of Africville. (There are quite possibly other references that I missed since I’m not familiar with Halifax.) This gives the novel a more timeless sense – there have always been tragedies and injustices and people have always had to figure out how to handle them. Many of them have far-reaching consequences.

Overall, Mitchell is a strong writer and I hope to see this novel receive some deserved attention.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell”

  1. I like the idea of their lives intersecting rather than one big dramatic event – sounds much more realistic. Yep, we have a tendency to take these people for granted, till we need them…

    1. Yes, I loved that she created multiple intersections. I don’t know that I could ever do one of these jobs but I’m thankful there are people who want to.

  2. Gosh I know what you mean about taking these people for granted. I have a friend who drove an ambulance and she had to take off signficant time from work because her anxiety was just getting too much. It seems so unfair that they have to bear the burden that their job takes on them, and yet they’re so vital to society running as a whole.

    This book is on my shelf, I keep meaning to read it, I read her last book (which came out quite awhile ago I think now) and I remember enjoying it so hopefully I feel the same about this one! It sounds promising…

    1. I struggle to even read or imagine about such circumstances. People who do these jobs are heroes. I think I’ll have to look for Mitchell’s first book; I really enjoyed her writing.

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