Friday, March 25, 2011

Review ~ Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Eyes Wide Open: A NovelEyes Wide Open: A Novel
Author ~ Andrew Gross
Publisher ~ Harper Collins
Publication date ~ July 1, 2011

About the book ~ 

Jay Erlich is a successful and respected surgeon and dad enjoying a romantic twentieth wedding anniversary on the beach when a call comes with the shocking news that his twenty-one year old nephew has been found dead at the bottom of a famed landmark cliff, ruled a suicide. Years before, Jay’s older brother Charlie, a wayward child of the Sixties, set out for California, where he fell under the sway of a charismatic, but deeply disturbed cult figure. A horrible tragedy ensued, lives were destroyed, but as the decades passed, Charlie married and raised a family, living a quiet, secluded life in a Central California beach town, under the radar. But the demons from his past have never completely disappeared.

When Jay, to help his grieving brother, heads out West, he begins to suspect that his nephew’s suicide may not have been what it appeared at all. At first against his will, and then determinedly, Jay delves into his brother’s dark past—a labyrinth of secrets, terror, and lies buried in the Sixties, with sons fighting against fathers, broken music dreams, mental illness, and a thirty year old vendetta from an infamous killer as real today was it was back then. With eyes wide open, Jay puts his “happy” life at risk to uncover the truth, a quest that goes beyond the edge of madness and a family brought to the edge. . . straight into the depths of evil.

Drawing on two, real-life experiences from his own life, the tragic suicide of his young nephew and an encounter years ago with a cult-killer who’s name has become synonymous with terror, Gross has crafted a richly personal, yet utterly terrifying tale of two brothers, one successful, the other wayward, trying to bridge the gap that has torn them apart.

My thoughts ~ 

There is nothing more tragic, more heart-wrenching than the death of a child. Nothing.

There is no doubt that Evan Erlich is sick. The signs are certainly there. After a particularly violent outburst where Evan tries to kill those he loves, he is admitted to the psych ward. But just three short days later he is deemed better, no longer a threat to himself or others, and after stating he doesn’t want to return home, he is released to what is supposed to be a state-funded residential treatment facility. Not long after his release, Evan’s body is found on the rocks at Morro Bay. It appears that he took his own life by jumping from the top of the big rock.

Charlie & Gabriella are Evan’s parents and deeply mourning his death. They realize that Evan was sick, and apparently took his own life, but they are still looking to place blame somewhere. Whether it be the hospital who let him go too soon, the inappropriate facility the state put him in, or even themselves for passing on their mental health issues on to their only child.

Dr. Jay Erlich lives in New York with his wife, Kathy, his son, Max, and his daughter, Sophie. Charlie is his younger brother, and Evan was his nephew. When he gets the call about Evan’s death he rushes out to California to be with his brother and sister-in-law, and to give them all the support he can. While he has always been financially supportive of Charlie, he hasn’t necessarily always been emotionally there for him. He’s hoping now he can make that up to him. He soon realizes that things aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, and vows to help his brother get to the bottom of things.

When you think of Russell Houvnanian and the Riorden Ranch, think of Charlie Manson and Helter Skelter. The Riorden Ranch was owned by the ex-husband of a woman Russell became involved with. It became a place where drifters, druggies, and the like hung out. A place for those with no other real place to go. Years ago, Charlie actually lived at the ranch. A time he won’t speak about. After being involved in a mass killing, similar to the one Charlie Manson organized, Russell and his followers are locked up. Some for the rest of their lives, and some not long enough. 

The more Jay digs into the death of his nephew, the more things don’t make sense. Who was the woman seen walking up the rocks with Evan that fateful night? Where is his missing sneaker? What does the infinity keychain found among his belongings have to do with anything? What is the connection between Evan and a retired police detective he was seen with, who was recently murdered? He tries to convince Don Sherwood, the coroner’s detective assigned to the case to see that this may be something other than a suicide, but he feels like he’s talking to a brick wall. And the more Jay digs, the more he puts both his life and his family’s at risk. There is definitely someone out there who wants him to back off. And just when you think the book has come to its stunning conclusion, the author teases you with enough information to think that just maybe, it’s not quite over yet.

Eyes Wide Open is full of murder, mystery, sadness, family, and forgiveness. But what truly makes this book stand out is that Andrew Gross has written an amazing, and extremely personal novel with Eyes Wide Open. The emotions that pour out of Jay, Charlie, and Gabriella are so raw, so real, that you can actually feel them coming off the pages of the book. You can literally feel how much each of those affected by Evan’s loss are truly hurting, because the author felt this hurt himself. Eyes Wide Open is not your typical Andrew Gross book. This is a very personal story for him. He took the basis of his own family tragedy and turned it into a remarkable story that will make you hold your loved ones closer, think about what is most important in your life, and be more compassionate for those that may not be as perfect as you are. This story will stay with you for a long time to come.

Instead of a bio (from Andrew's website)


Who was? I actually did major in English at Middlebury, but after an MBA from Columbia, and a stint at the Leslie Fay Companies, a women's clothing firm started by my grandfather, I went into the sports apparel field. I ended up president of HEAD Ski and Tennis (to brag: we grew to #1 in America in both businesses while I was there) and later, le coq sportif, a French sports fashion line. It was one-too-many turnaround situations or more precisely--one that didn't turn around, that hastened my writing career.


Truth is, he called. Out of nowhere. An editor had given him the manuscript of a novel I was hoping to publish, HYDRA. At that point, I would have been elated if my gate guard (we live in a gated community) dialed in with a little praise. Jim said he had read the book and asked if we could meet for breakfast. He said he had several projects he wanted to write and not enough time to do them. I had the incredible foresight to say yes.


It was like a combination MFA and MBA rolled into one. He knows what kind of stories he wants to tell, has a keen sense of what will appeal to his readers, especially women, what's vital in a scene for it to succeed, knows exactly when the scene needs more--or generally, less! And he's an even better editor than he is a writer. Hopefully, I've learned a few things from him along the way.


I figured we'd do one book. It led to six in seven years. The Women's Murder Club Series became one of the leading crime series of all time! My personal favorite was The Jester set in the thirteenth century in France. If you missed it, I really recommend you go back and take a read. Lifeguard had a great, likeable hero with the odds all stacked against him. Judge & Jury, our last together, is coming out July 31, 2006.


We alternate every word.

(Jim's line, actually.) To be honest, we always began with a concept and an outline that came from him, which we fleshed out into a detailed chapter- by-chapter outline. (Some chapters longer than in the actual book!) No writer's block here, the roadmap was always there. Every day, I knew exactly where I was going. That call from Jim changed my writing life!


A supportive wife!

And I have one, in Lynn. Never once did she tell me I was out of my mind. (At least, not to my face!)

We live in Westchester County, New York. We have three terrific kids. Kristen's out of college, in the apparel biz, a natural. Matt's in college in D.C. And Nick, a squash player, goes to school in Connecticut. We share our house with a couple of Westies too.

By the way, having a Mom who believes in you all the way is good too!


If I had to start with a couple of writerly things... Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone, All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren, (Read it as a search for one's father, not as politics.) Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy & Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.


Sorry, Jim anything by Alan Furst or Robert Wilson. They both deserve much wider acclaim. When it comes to classic thrillers, The Wind-Chill Factor by Thomas Gifford and Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry are my favorites.


"Some people think they can and some think they can't and they're probably both right!" Henry Ford

"You can do anything you want in life, anything, if you want to badly enough."
Fred P. Pomerantz. My grandfather.


A hell of a lot easier commute.

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FTC full disclosure ~ I received an ARC of this book in hopes I would review it.