Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: The Gaze

I was wasting time on Goodreads one day when, somehow or other, I ended up reading the blurb for The Gaze. It was amazing! I was so drawn to the story upon reading it, I sent the author a message right then and there and actually asked him if he would let me review the book. That was at the beginning of the summer. I started the book in June and finished it last night...just a few days before autumn will officially begin. 

The Gaze is beautifully written. Javier Robayo definitely knows how to turn a phrase, so to speak. The dialogue is smooth and true; I can actually hear the characters talking when I'm reading it. The narrative is powerful and strong. Robayo knows which words to choose.

But, he does choose too many. It took me a long time to read The Gaze because The Gaze is just too long. There are a lot of scenes that flash back to the past and a lot of scenes of the main character doing nothing much at all. For a rather hefty chunk of the story, I felt like I had two options: I could read about a woman in agonizing detail as she screws around on Facebook, wanders around her bedroom and wastes time -- or, I could just go back to being that woman. Time was getting sucked out of my life, needlessly, either way. 

There are a lot of scenes of Sam, the main character, on Facebook. There is a lot of detail about the various conversations she's having there. I think a lot of us know what it is to waste time on Facebook, so I felt like some of these scenes were needlessly added.

Mostly,  I just wanted to get back to the main story because it was fairly gripping. Sam is young, troubled and hopelessly entangled in her own past. I really identified with that. At the start of the story, she meets a young man in the restaurant where she works as a waitress. He's also young, and troubled, and he writes a beauiful, heart-wrenching love poem on a paper placemat. It's pathetic, and it speaks to Samantha right away. It leads to an encounter between the two. She takes him home, and seduces him, even though it's clear his heart will never be hers. 

It leads to a downward spiral. Years later, Sam is college educated, and gorgeous, and living in the big city. She works as a book editor, because she's been drawn to fiction ever since that chance encounter. And she's a miserable wreck. Still pining for Tony, she's come out of a very toxic relationship on the wrong end of a vodka bottle and her only family in the world is gone. She has one close friend, an Englishman named Lewis who loves being the life of the party. Despite the career and the looks she's got, Sam is 100 percent screwed up. Frankly, I didn't care for her or for her friend Lewis, either. She's clearly an alcoholic, extremely low-functioning, and during their early interactions he's well aware of her problem and still taking her to raves and clubs. He's an enabler and it's despicable, but Sam has a true problem that stems from deep emotional pain. I didn't hate her because she was an alcoholic. I hated her because she was on Facebook. 

In a move that I'm sure many other women (especially those who have had their cups refilled too many times one night) can relate to, Sam goes searching for Tony on Facebook. And she finds him. She finds the mysterious woman from the placemat, too, Tony's love that he wrote about so beautifully. Her name is Gwen, and she's gorgeous. She's got blonde hair and a perfect smile...and Tony. They're married. They have two beautiful daughters. 

Most self-respecting women at this point would go ahead and drink a little more, call Gwen some names and maybe imagine that she has webbed toes or forty extra pounds in her rear or a back covered with legions (one can only hope). Samantha isn't a self-respecting woman. She ends up befriending Gwen instead, enticing her with hints that she had some connection to Tony in the past, and sets about to destroy the relationship in a hazily subconcious/concious fashion. 

They become best friends, Sam and Gwen (betcha didn't see that coming), and you'll spend the next 25 percent of the book learning what it's like to spend a whole lot of time on Facebook. Eventually things start to happen. A great deal of the past is revealed, perhaps too much, and Sam ends up seeing Tony again. Does she meet Gwen? Does she steal the guy from the blonde wife? Can we find a reason to hate the blonde wife? You'll have to read it yourself. 

Just don't say I didn't warn you about the length, because I did (don't stop following me on Facebook because of this book!). The grammar is good, so you know I love that, and Robayo has mastered the mechanics of writing itself. He doesn't use the wrong words or screw up his punctuation, but there are some proofreading errors and weird formatting issues you'll have to watch out for. 

But if you want a story with a strong narrative about chance meetings and how they shape us, being mired in the past and how that can stop us, and how not letting go can wreck us, you'll probably adore The Gaze, flaws and all. I know I set the bar pretty high, but there's a chance you can beat my three-month reading record and complete the book quicker than I did.

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