EYES WIDE OPEN was inspired by a personal tragedy that recently befell Andrew Gross's family. The pain he has experienced shines through in this story, which deals with loss and, yes, love, while providing a frightening, riveting and compelling journey into the darkness of the human soul, all told within the context of a classic story of good versus evil.
"Impossible to put down at any point, the final third of the novel will have you terrified --- right up to the very end --- wondering if at some point your past will come knocking at your door."
Jay and Charlie Erlich are brothers who could not be more dissimilar. Jay is a successful and well-respected vascular surgeon in New England with a devoted wife and two well-adjusted children. Charlie is a casualty of the 1960s; the only difference between him and a hobo is that he stays in one place. He, his wife, Gabriella, and son Evan are dependent upon the largesse of the state of California and Jay for support. His days are spent taking a pharmaceutical salad of prescribed medication, strumming an old guitar, and dreaming about what might have been, thinking about his all-too-brief appearance on the Top 40 charts decades before. Evan, a severely troubled young man who alternates between aimless and dangerous, appears to be headed down the path blazed by his father.
While Jay does not begrudge his brother for the assistance he provides to him and to his family, the contact between the two has been sporadic and distant, as is indicated at one point early on in EYES WIDE OPEN. They're brothers, but not friends. That situation begins to change when Jay receives a telephone call advising him that Evan is dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. Jay drops everything and flies to California to provide whatever assistance he can. But what is supposed to be a visit of a couple of days to provide emotional comfort soon becomes something more.
Jay begins by trying to discover how his nephew, supposedly under hospitalization, was found dead at the bottom of a mountain after apparently jumping. His questions slowly lead him to the conclusion that it was neither a suicide nor an accident. He enlists the aid of a troubled coroner's detective who, counting the days toward his retirement, reluctantly finds himself pulled into investigating Evan's death. The two men find a connection between it and a series of accidents and suicides stretching back over time, leading to a murderous cult leader responsible for a notorious and horrific mass killing that has become the stuff of folklore --- and that may be connected to Jay's own brother. Jay is soon warned off his investigation by anonymous threats that he disregards, never dreaming that his involvement will endanger not only himself, but also the lives of those he treasures most.
EYES WIDE OPEN is one wild ride, wonderfully paced from beginning to end. Impossible to put down at any point, the final third of the novel will have you terrified --- right up to the very end --- wondering if at some point your past will come knocking at your door. While Gross has always been a strong writer, EYES WIDE OPEN is by far his best work, one that will undoubtedly shoulder its way onto multiple "best of" lists for 2011. Whether or not you're familiar with Gross's prior work, this is a book not to be missed.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 12, 2011