Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: As Good As Dead by Elizabeth Evans

From Goodreads:
At the high-octane Iowa Writers' Workshop, small-town Charlotte is thrilled and confounded by her relationship with charismatic and sophisticated Esmé: One moment, Esmé appears to be Charlotte's most intimate friend; the next, her rival. After a tumultuous weekend, Charlotte's insecurities and her resentment toward Esmé reach a fever pitch. Blindly, Charlotte strikes out-in an act of betrayal that ultimately unleashes a cascade of calamities on her own head.

Twenty years later, Charlotte is a successful novelist. A much-changed Esmé appears, bringing the past that Charlotte grieved over, and believed buried, to the doorstep of Charlotte and her beloved husband. Charlotte finds herself both frightened and charmed. Though she yearns to redeem the old friendship and her transgression, she is wary-and rightly so.

As Good As Dead performs an exquisitely tuned psychological high-wire act as it explores the dangers that lie in wait when trust is poisoned by secrets and fears.
For the most part, I think the writing here was nicely done.  I think the author did a fantastic job of capturing the characters, up until the end.  And maybe my critique of the end belongs more in the entertainment value portion of the review.  The problem I had was with a character who basically abdicates all personal responsibility to her husband and allows him to solve her problems for her.  I'm not sure whether I can legitimately consider this a writing issue, because it is in line with how the character behaves historically, but it ultimately means that our protagonist shows absolutely no growth.  It's something I'd love to discuss with the author and perhaps understand better.  Are we meant to see that Charlotte hasn't changed at all from her graduate school days and has learned nothing from her experience with Esme or is that a flaw in the writing?  From what I can tell, we are meant to sympathize with Charlotte, which leads me to lean more towards a flaw in characterization.

Entertainment Value
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the story until the ending, where I felt like rather than resolve the open ended tension and conflict with Esme, Charlotte hides behind her husband.  The result is a let down, as you spend the majority of the novel expecting a much more dramatic and satisfying conclusion after everything that builds up over the course of the novel.  I loved the college setting and the elements of writing and academia throughout, and I did find the book to be engrossing, but it was ultimately unsatisfying.

I'd say read it if the academic setting or the novel's themes of writing as a profession, writing workshop experiences, etc. are particularly appealing.  If you're expecting something with high drama or dark overtones, that's not exactly what you'll find.  It's more of a character study centered around women's relationships in a competitive environment.  If the setting or the idea of female competition don't attract you, I think this is one you'll want to skip.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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