Twenty-Seven Minutes: A Novel
“A dark read, Twenty-Seven Minutes succeeds in its dreariness in a satisfying way.”
When Grant Dean, a popular high school football player in the small town of West Wilmer, crashes his truck on the West Wilmer Bridge after a night of heavy drinking, he, his passengers, and their families are never quite the same. Ashley Tate’s novel, Twenty-Seven Minutes, is an engrossing tale of the lies, secrets, and grief spawned by that tragic accident.
There are two passengers in Grant’s truck the night of the crash: Becca, a girl from their school who is infatuated with him; and Grant’s younger sister, Phoebe. In the 27 minutes between the time the truck careens into the guardrail on the bridge and the time Grant finally phones for help, Phoebe dies.
Becca survives but suffers serious injuries, including a concussion that causes some memory loss. Grant is also badly hurt, with damage to his legs that ultimately ends his hope of a college scholarship and a promising football career. When the local sheriff shows up at the hospital to ask them questions about the accident, he is suspicious of their version of events.
“You’re lucky, kid. With your breathalyzer being done so late, you made it just under the limit. Is that why you waited to call the ambulance? To sober up? It could have saved your sister’s life if she’d been brought in right away.”
Although Grant is never charged with a crime, questions linger about why he waited 27 minutes before calling for an ambulance. People in town continue to wonder what really happened that rainy night on the bridge. A decade later, when Phoebe’s and Grant’s long-aggrieved mother decides to hold a memorial on the tenth anniversary of her daughter’s death, the truth slowly begins to surface.
Twenty-Seven Minutes uses four points of view—Grant’s, Becca’s, and sister and brother June and Wyatt Delroy’s. The book spans three days, introduces quite a number of characters at the onset, and alternates between the past and present. Initially this format is slightly confusing, but the author creates interest by opening with a vivid description of Phoebe’s death at the scene of the accident. From there Tate continues to build suspense to keep readers engaged.
Though June elicits some empathy, for the most part none of the characters are particularly endearing as they wallow in their daily lives perseverating on what has befallen them, especially in the flashback chapters to their teenage years. Becca agonizes over her love for Grant and feels overlooked as Phoebe, even in death, outshines her. Grant, haunted by the accident, still lives with his widowed mother and is convinced she resents him and blames him for Phoebe’s death. She also compares him to her late husband.
“You look just like him. But you are nothing like him. Why couldn’t you stay out of trouble? It exhausted him,” his mother slurred, and Grant recoils as if struck.
Wyatt, who reappears at June’s house after vanishing without a trace ten years earlier on the same night as the accident, is a disturbing, unhealthy character. There are graphic descriptions of his scabs, headaches, nosebleeds, teeth falling out, and overall physical decline.
“His pillow was wet. Wyatt flipped it to hide the mess and used the blanket to wipe dried blood from his nose. He dragged his tongue around his mouth, which was now entirely bruised, tender flesh. His chest burned; his head was blank, his bones brittle.”
A mix of horror and mystery, the book is filled with depressed, lonely people hopelessly caught in an undertow of grief, perfectly expressed by Becca’s words: “. . . that whole stages-of-grief thing? It’s not true. There are no stages and so it never really goes away.”
A dark read, Twenty-Seven Minutes succeeds in its dreariness in a satisfying way.