This is a tremendous book. It has its flaws, but Austin Glass has to be one of the most compelling narrators I have come across--the frat boy with a heart of gold. He is an astonishing mix of obtuse, insensitive, infuriating, funny, and deeply moving. His voice, his perspective lingers with you--I have rarely encountered a narrator as present and real as he is. The depiction of his relationship with Peter is equally extraordinary: heart-breaking even. So often the barriers between characters are contrived or cheap--miscommunications that could be cleared up in a 30 second conversation, absurd resolutions (I’ll never date another doctor after one broke my heart!) the character has to give up for the story to move along, absurdly awful boyfriends or girlfriends who must be dumped, etc. Not so here. The barriers between Austin and Peter are real, starting with Austin’s “straightness” and then moving on to Peter’s lying and hustling, to Kai, and then to a truckload of family baggage that cannot be offloaded. Desperately as I wanted them to be together and happy, I could feel how fragile their connection was. I genuinely worried about them because I cared about them, but I also felt throughout that they would both have to grow if they were going to earn their relationship. I honestly can’t remember another book that aroused such complex reactions from me.
I would also mention here that this is a book that avoids villains--cruel parents, bossy fiancées, even rapists and mafia hitmen are fully drawn characters, depicted with a generous humanity that is incredibly rare. Angelica is particularly remarkable because she could so easily have been a caricature--the rich, spoiled, snobby bitch who seems to inhabit every novel I read for the sole purpose of torturing the poor hero or heroine. The scenes where she and Austin have it out, the deep sense you get of their friendship, the pain he is causing her, the sense of regret and mistakes made--what other novelist would have made these choices? Answer: no one but Dani Alexander.
I mentioned flaws, and in the name of balance I’ll note mine: I did not join the cult of Kai over the course of the novel. Hopefully the next book will enable me to appreciate him better. The “police procedural” plot was all over the place, more messy than sloppy, but I had to read the book twice to make any sense of it. I won’t call it undercooked, but these parts felt more like a first novel to me--mostly because the depiction of the relationships was so bloody assured. I don’t think it would have hurt the book to have a few less tangles and surprises.
But those are minor points given what Alexander accomplished here. I dearly hope the rest of the series is as good, though I find it hard to imagine any book sticking with me the way this one has.
For more on Angelica and this books' defiance of easy cliches, see the review on my blog. http://liliafordromance.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-apotheosis-of-bitchy-ex-girl-friend.html