Book Review: Alice Close Your Eyes

Full Disclosure:  I’ve never met Averil Dean face-to-face, but I consider her a good friend—it’s a Betsy Lerner thing, a bloggerbuddy thing, an e-mailing, occasional care-packaging, shared parenting-woeing, mutual why-do-I-want-to-do-this-writing-thing-again-oh-right-thanks thing.

And the woman can writeas anyone who’s visited her blog will agree.  She classifies her posts as Poetry, Porn, and Petulance, but there’s far more to them than that.  She’s savvy, insightful, earthy, brave, and has paid her damn dues, thank you.

So when she offered me an ARC of her new book, Alice Close Your Eyeswith several disclaimers about not being sure it was my usual cup of tea and that she would understand if I was too busy—my reply, verbatim, was, “OH MY GOD, GIMME!”

I tried to summarize the story myself, but kept dropping spoilers, so here’s the official blurb, instead:

Alice Close Your EyesTen years ago, someone ruined Alice Croft’s life. Now, she has a chance to right that wrong—and she thinks she’s found the perfect man to carry out her plan.

After watching him for weeks, she breaks into Jack Calabrese’s house to collect the evidence that will confirm her hopes. When Jack comes home unexpectedly, Alice hides in the closet, fearing for her life. But upon finding her, Jack is strangely calm, solicitous…and intrigued.

That night is the start of a dark and intense attraction, and soon Alice finds herself drawn into a labyrinth of terrifying surrender to a man who is more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. As their relationship spirals toward a breaking point, Alice begins to see just how deep Jack’s secrets run—and how deadly they could be.

Like all blurbs, this is only a surface description—and like Averil’s posts, this book is far more than advertised.

It’s an exploration of changing points-of-view, mistakes, and motivations, of loss and missed opportunities, broken pieces and unfilled needs, and the many, many different kinds of devotion and desire.

It’s also an exercise in symbolism both subtle and shouted so loudly that even the characters can’t help but notice.  And so precisely written that every single plot point and flashback and spiraling erotic moment slots into place with a click.

The characters all hold their own, even though they’re  filtered through Alice’s memory,  mindset . . and misinterpretations.  Jack, who knows he’s being played, but can’t back down.  Molly, who broke my heart more than once.  Alice’s grandmother, who, with the best intentions, may have taught Alice the worst interpretation of vengeance.  And Alice herself—writer, orphan, semi-recluse, lost girl interrupted—who thinks her eyes are wide open and her vision is true . . .  and who is very, very wrong.

About those erotic moments:  they may be dark, they may be frequent, but not a single one is gratuitous.  Each is a payment offered or extracted, a manipulation, a binding, a powerplay, a promise, a punishment—or any combination.*  Averil’s talent for infusing a scene, an act, a single touch, with the emotional tensiondark or light—that defines true erotica, is undeniable: there’s a scene in a craft fair booth, a fully-clothed moment of supercharged choice, that rivals, at least for me, any other scene in the book.

This isn’t a mystery with sex scenes tacked on—it’s a symbiosis.  And a damned good story .

Someone, can’t remember who, described this book as erotic noir.  So I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a light read.  And it isn’t—there are some tough, true things in here, things that happen and shouldn’t and do anyway.  The world of these characters was broken when they got here,  and that they have trouble coping with the unfairness isn’t surprising.

The level of involvement I had with these characters would have been, except I know Averil Dean and what she can do.

You should find out for yourselves.

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* And, if I may, the dom/sub dynamics between Alice and Jack are fascinating on several levels. In both their intimate relationship and the plot, Alice has the power and Jack has the strength.  They each have the need, even the craving, for aftercare, even if they’re unable to express it, or even accept it.  They could be the saving of each other—but their inability to trust each other, or themselves, upsets the necessary balance.