Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Eyes Wide Open promises to be something of a psychological thriller, and there are definitely aspects of mental-illness-as-character (which I think of as one possible iteration of the psychological thriller, although not the only one). The story is narrated by Jay, a successful surgeon and family man, called from New York out to California to help his big brother out of trouble, again. Intermittently, we hear the voice of Charlie’s son, Evan, whose death by apparent suicide opens the book.

Charlie’s past as a troubled youth includes a brief stint living on a commune with a cult of sorts. Apparently the murders committed by this cult group several decades ago aren’t done haunting Charlie’s life, and now Jay’s, too.

I tried to be open-minded about this book. The plot was fairly mediocre; the cult group and the murders of housefuls of Hollywood beautifuls were so clearly rip-offs of the Charles Manson story that I kept waiting for the name-drop, but it never came. This left me confused; is Gross trying to pretend that this isn’t a rip-off of Manson? The suspense was there, at least. I kept turning pages; I did finish the book. Not having abandoned it is some small mark of favor, I guess. But the plot fell a little short for me. We open with a tender moment between Jay and his wife, intended (I think) to show us what a strong marriage he has and what a fine family man he is; but this isn’t really upheld by the rest of the story. Charlie and his wife, Gabby, are on the one hand mentally ill and down-trodden to the point of helplessness; but on the other hand, they’re awfully coherent and articulate on the subject of their helplessness, which rings a little false. Worst of all, the story peters out late, and the intended terrifying cliffhanger of an ending fell well short for me.

But my worst beef with this book was the writing. I’m trying not to be cruel, but I’m really not sure when I last saw writing this painfully bad. Now, I need to say, I read a galley copy, which comes with all the disclaimers about not quoting from it and it still being edited further before publication – and good thing, because this is the most poorly-edited galley I’ve ever come across. BUT! Unless they’re going to rewrite as well as edit, I’m afraid the published version will still draw criticisms.

Gross has trouble painting pictures with his words. He just states things, failing to follow the “show, don’t tell” maxim. Now, I understand there’s a place for brevity, for dismissing floweriness or long passages of description. I’m a fan of Hemingway and Connelly, neither of whom, I think, get accused of long-winded explication. But I still want an author to evoke settings and emotions with words, rather than take my emotional participation in the story for granted. For example… I have to paraphrase from memory, plus this is a galley, so take it with a grain of salt, but there was something like “…he cried. She cried too.” Are you kidding me? You couldn’t think of any more evocative verb, and you had two opportunities? Just “cried, and cried”? You’re trying to wrench my heart with this?

I realize I’m coming down a bit harshly against this book and I feel a little badly (especially having just written another negative review of Gone with a Handsomer Men). But this was my honest reaction. Sigh. Here’s hoping I pull something enjoyable on the next roll of the dice.

Suspense? Fine. Plot? Meh. Writing? Distractingly bad. Go ahead, pick it up to pass your time if you don’t expect much and just want a gritty story for a beach read. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

2 Responses

  1. Hey, I just gave your blog an award. Check it out at http://lexisjen.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/a-blog-award/

  2. Non capisci un cacchio.

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