Book Review :: As Good As Dead

As Good as DeadAs Good as Dead by Elizabeth Evans
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This review was first published in The Hans India

A friendship from 20 years ago, a long held secret, mistakes from the past and the unceasing gnaw of guilt—this is literary fiction at its best; a treat for lovers of books and good writing

An ocean full of secrets
Almost everyone has that one friend whom you wronged and wish to avoid for the rest of your life yet; deep down you have a yearning to redeem yourself in front of that person.

Best friends and roommates, Charlotte and Esmé have everything two girls would want in a friendship. However, as it happens with deep, close and intense relationships, insecurity sprouts, which grows into envy. One starts living in fear, harbouring secrets and consequently, one (or more) unfortunate error occurs by one or both of them.

So is the story of these two women, who meet while pursuing a course at the Iowa Writer’s workshop and drift apart in 1988. Now, twenty years later, Charlotte is a successful author and professor at the University of Arizona where her husband, Will is also a professor.

A changed Esmé arrives at Charlotte’s doorstop, bringing with her the grim details of the past—Esmé, who had ended the friendship after she learned of Charlotte’s one-night stand with her then boyfriend (and later, husband, who is also a writer), Jeremy. Esmé asks her “old friend” to visit for dinner that turns out to be a ploy to blackmail Charlotte; she behests Charlotte to forge results of a writing contest (for which she is on the judge’s panel) and select Jeremy’s manuscript as the winner—Jeremy has not had much success as a writer.

The novel shifts back and forth between Charlotte’s present and past as the narration places the betrayal in context, which has had Charlotte ridden with guilt throughout her life. The final blow comes when Esmé threatens to reveal Charotte’s betrayal to Will and Charotte is left at the brink of losing it all.

‘As Good as Dead’ is a fearless novel that gives us an unadulterated glimpse into the mind of a writer where thoughts are always taking shape of sentences in rapid succession. More than the story, it is the writing style and narration in which lies the beauty of the novel. Evans keeps the two stories in sync—the past and the present reach climax together.

The narration is a reminder of the likes of Jerome K Jerome’s classic, ‘Three Men in a Boat’; of course, that was more humourous—Evans’ book, though, is more serious. Nevertheless, it does come across as a friendly encounter with the author, who could just as well be sitting across a coffee table and narrating stories to the reader, one after the other, in rapid succession.

However, this is definitely a difficult book. Readers are advised to take their time with it; cherish the juicy flavour of each word strung together in explicitly expressive sentences that portray the never-ending chain of thoughts that go on in a writer’s head as portrayed by Charlotte—the intricate observation skills, the social awkwardness and difficulty in holding on to relationships, the over-thinking and most of all, the moral ambiguity writers face in life.

It might seem that the story may get lost in the avalanche of words. However, Evans manages to hold on to the readers’ emotions with the intensity of Charlotte’s relationships with Will and Esmé. The book ends on an open note and readers are left to decide the fate of Charlotte and Will. While things can go either way, it would be remiss not to quote a dialogue written by Chuck Lorre for ‘The Big Bang Theory’, “We all make mistakes. Let’s move on.”

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