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As Good as Dead by Elizabeth Evans
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As Good as Dead

by Elizabeth Evans

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204515,329 (3.19)4
03/15 (1) 2015 (1) 2017 (1) Amazon Vine (1) ARC (1) fiction (2) first-reads (1) netgalley (2) on-deck (1) read (1) read in 2015 (1) to-read (2)

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In Elizabeth Evans’ novel As Good as Dead, 40-something Charlotte Price has built a solid if unspectacular career as a novelist while teaching creative writing at the University of Arizona, where her husband Will also teaches. Twenty years earlier, Charlotte was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At Iowa, she met Esmé Cole. As a matter of convenience, the two young women—both fiction writers—became roommates, building a friendship based, at least in part, on a mutual need for companionship and their polar-opposite personalities: Charlotte: studious, shy, riddled with self-doubt; Esmé: outgoing, confident, sexually aggressive. Evans’ novel starts twenty years after Iowa, with Esmé showing up unannounced on Charlotte’s Tuscon doorstep. Charlotte’s astonishment at Esmé’s sudden appearance after twenty years is due to the total silence that has prevailed for much of that time and her guilt over a betrayal for which she’s never managed to forgive herself. Still, despite some misgivings, she is willing to see if the friendship can be revived. Charlotte and Will accept a dinner invitation, which Esmé extends on behalf of herself and her husband Jeremy. Jeremy, who became Esmé’s boyfriend and lover while at the workshop, turns out to be the same boorish asshole that Charlotte remembers with little fondness. The evening is a disaster, and in a dramatically fraught moment when the two women are alone together, Esmé informs Charlotte why she approached her after all these years. Much of the subsequent narrative flashes back to Iowa, showing us the friendship between Esmé and Charlotte in its formative and more developed stages. Charlotte is alternately fascinated by Esmé and repelled by her friend’s manipulative and sometimes cruel behaviour, but usually finds herself unable to resist when Esmé pushes her in directions she would not normally go on her own. The flashback section culminates in a boozy, drug-fueled encounter, the unpleasant consequences of which Charlotte finds herself staring at twenty years later. Elizabeth Evans’ prose, stylistically breezy, can seem tossed off but is often astonishing in its descriptive clarity and level of detail. She stimulates her reader’s senses, relentlessly it seems, and without apparent effort infuses her characters and the Tuscon and Iowa settings with great depth and complexity. The novel is narrated by Charlotte, and as the noose tightens we become deeply invested in her dilemma and wonder how she is going to resolve a morally untenable situation that threatens her career and her marriage. For this reason, the ending might leave the reader feeling, dramatically speaking, a bit shortchanged. Still, As Good as Dead tells a thoroughly gripping story, one that delivers more tension and suspense than we have any right to expect of a novel about people who make their livelihoods writing and teaching. ( )
  icolford | Jul 19, 2017 |
I was looking forward to reading this from the blurb as it sounded intriguing and was billed as an exquisitely tuned psychological high-wire act.

It started well, when Charlotte's old college friend Esme appeared unannounced on her doorstep. It was clear that Charlotte was both pleased but apprehensive after having tried to make her own contact with her years previously. The first question Charlotte was asking herself was why show up now and the second was did Esme know what happened all those years ago? So far so good, the story was set up to reveal a secret that was potentially explosive for Esme and her husband Jeremy, and also for Charlotte and her husband Will.

Unfortunately the story then slowed down and went on the back burner with a long winded reveal of what had happened and an insight into the characters of the 4 main protagonists. Despite Charlotte's assertions as to how wonderful her friendship had been with Esme I began to wonder exactly how good a friend she had been. Certain of her actions, particularly the one that in essence set the ball rolling in what would prove Charlotte's undoing was especially unfriendly. Esme's boyfriend had no redeeming qualities whatsoever and Will was fairly bland. Charlotte was the only one that seemed caring and nice, but she was plagued with insecurities and numerous ghosts from the past that got in the way of her actually living a normal balanced life.

When the reveal came, I didn't feel that what happened was actually that explosive. Hard to believe, but not explosive. The real damage was caused by the not coming clean and owning up to what had happened. As the past has a habit of doing, it did eventually catch up with Charlotte, as was presaged by Esme's visit, and in the end she was forced to tell all. This should have resulted in tension and recrimination, but the ending was just flat and I was left thinking is that it? Sadly the answer was yes.

This sounds very critical, but I think that partly lies in the way that the blurb builds the book up to be something it isn't, it certainly lacked the psychological edge I was anticipating. It's more a look at the mistakes people make and the way relationships are made and broken on falsehoods and omissions. Had that been the emphasis in the blurb I'd have enjoyed the book more for what it was, rather than been disappointed by what it wasn't.

I received an advanced review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.


( )
  Jilldoyle | Mar 27, 2016 |
Old friends and old secrets. The trouble was that there wasn't anybody I could actually root for, finding Charlotte, Esme, Will and Jeremy rather unpleasant. So much so I didn't care about what happened to them. On the plus side there were some great descriptions of various things such as landscape and academia. The book was well written but not compelling or sinister enough for my tastes. ( )
  boudicca123 | Dec 25, 2015 |
Here's a great domestic thriller. No disappearances, no deaths - but hard on the consequences of living with mistakes and concealment.

Charlotte and husband Will are tenured university professors in Tucson, AZ. Charlotte is a graduate of the highest ranking graduate program for writers, the U of Iowa Writer's Workshop. She's published four books. Other than having to abandon their plans to have children due to Charlotte's multiple miscarriages, the couple seems to lead an ideal life, until - yeah, yeah, I know - the doorbell rings unexpectedly. Charlotte, who gives the impression of being somewhat infantilized in her marriage, usually leaves the phone and the doorbell to Will, but he's left for the day. Peering out, she doesn't recognize the stocky woman on her doorstep in a business suit, and, feeling assured that she's not being preyed on by a Jehovah's Witness (they come in pairs), she opens the door.

It's Esme...yes, named after the Salinger story. Esme, her roommate at Iowa almost a quarter century ago. Formerly stunning Esme, now an overweight realtor, mother of two boys in their late twenties - just about how long it's been since they were in contact.

Charlotte, shy and completely lacking in confidence, had been swept away by Esme when they first met. Esme, born of a wealthy family, supremely confident, stunning, catnip to men. Esme and her horrible boyfriend Jeremy, also a writer in the program. Jeremy, who calls Charlotte "Bronte" when she has a story published in the Atlantic, and not in a complimentary way. Esme, who throws away her birth control pills and leaves the program when Jeremy complies with her wishes for marriage.

Esme's reappearance in Charlotte's life is surprising. And threatening to everything.

What emerges slowly is the unrestful undercurrents of both marriages. Although, as seen through Charlotte's eyes, she and Will are the "good couple", Charlotte's neglectful parents had create a Charlotte almost unable to function without Will's direction, though to the outer world, she's a complete success.

A disastrous dinner party brings on a crisis, and the responses of the four bring the story to a most satisfying conclusion. The women are the fascinating characters here - the startlingly hot-and-cold-running-Esme, but even more, Charlotte, who finally passes all the tests.

Much glorious writing here, especially about the Writer's Workshop, competition, and power struggles in relationships. ( )
1 vote froxgirl | Jun 21, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 162040298X, Hardcover)

At the high-octane Iowa Writers’ Workshop, small-town Charlotte is thrilled and confounded by her relationship with charismatic and sophisticated Esmé: One moment, Esmé appears to be Charlotte’s most intimate friend; the next, her rival. After a tumultuous weekend, Charlotte’s insecurities and her resentment toward Esmé reach a fever pitch. Blindly, Charlotte strikes out—in an act of betrayal that ultimately unleashes a cascade of calamities on her own head.

Twenty years later, Charlotte is a successful novelist. A much-changed Esmé appears, bringing the past that Charlotte grieved over, and believed buried, to the doorstep of Charlotte and her beloved husband. Charlotte finds herself both frightened and charmed. Though she yearns to redeem the old friendship and her transgression, she is wary—and rightly so.

As Good As Dead performs an exquisitely tuned psychological high-wire act as it explores the dangers that lie in wait when trust is poisoned by secrets and fears.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:44 -0400)

When Esme, the woman she betrayed twenty years ago, arrives on her doorstep, bringing with her a past she thought was buried forever, Charlotte is faced with a choice of redeeming the old friendship or give in to the fears of the past.

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