Averil Dean's debut novel, ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES, opens with a tension-filled scene, as Alice Croft hides in a closet to escape detection by Jack Calabrese, whose house she's just broken into. When Jack discovers Alice (and seems surprisingly unperturbed by her appearance), she tells him that she's in the habit of breaking into strange men's houses in order to sneak a glimpse of their secret boxes --- the shoeboxes where they keep old love letters, photos, and other memorabilia of their secret selves.
Since Alice is a young adult novelist, her curiosity about people's inner lives seems plausible, even if readers know (or at least suspect) that her interest in Jack goes beyond mere curiosity. She's been researching this guy for a while now, and once they finally meet in person, Jack seems nearly as intrigued by Alice as she is by him. After he does his own bit of voyeuristic stalking, the two of them begin a relationship that seems to fill a void in Alice's quiet, circumscribed life.
"Alice is a complicated character with a multilayered back story that Dean explores skillfully and carefully, offering readers insight not only into why this particular character acts the way she does, but also on how past trauma --- even if it's not as extreme as what Alice experienced --- carries lifelong repercussions."
At first, Alice and Jack's sexual experimentation seems fun and risqué, but as their involvement grows deeper, Jack's obsessions grow more ominous, sending Alice's memories back to her childhood and youth, and to the real reason she sought out Jack in the first place. When Jack suggests that they continue Alice's history of trespassing, upping the ante by breaking into the homes of strangers, Alice is both excited and terrified. Where will she draw the line?
Alice is a cutter and has been since childhood --- she inflicts cuts on the sole of her foot as a way to manipulate, control and process pain. Jack's passions, too, run toward inflicting pain, both physical and psychological. But as their liaisons grow increasingly risky, will Alice embrace the relationship's excitement and danger, or will she decide to flee?
With its strong undercurrent of sexual energy and its focus on sexual domination and submission, it's perhaps inevitable that ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES will draw comparisons to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Dean does have a knack for writing sex scenes that are both intense and original; these erotic moments are well integrated into the overall plot, especially seeing as the erotic elements carry significant thematic heft in the novel.
Alice is a complicated character with a multilayered back story that Dean explores skillfully and carefully, offering readers insight not only into why this particular character acts the way she does, but also on how past trauma --- even if it's not as extreme as what Alice experienced --- carries lifelong repercussions. Scenes from Alice's past begin to take on deeper significance as her present risks intensify, and the tension builds as readers wonder whether her thirst for revenge will outweigh her desire for personal safety. ALICE CLOSE YOUR EYES places special focus on the intersections between past experience and current preferences, and on the ways in which the scars of childhood (both seen and unseen) follow us into adulthood.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 8, 2014