The Art of Peeling an Orange by Victoria Avilan pushes the boundaries of our definition of lesfic. This is what I would consider literary fiction, a retelling of the tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Our heroine, Carly Rosen, has lost the love of her life, first to another woman, and then to death. She starts out on a journey of redemption and reclamation, trying to wrest what remains of her love from the one she considers Hades, Anna Garibaldi. Everything changes when Carly and Anna meet, and their lives become intensely entwined. But secrets abound between the two, and drive a wedge between them as Carly’s sister, Kyra, confronts Carly with her concerns. This is a story of obsessions and madness, and tragedy.
Carly Rosen is the main character of the book, and most of the book is written from her point of view. At the beginning of the story, Carly is mad with grief, and obsessed with the woman who stole her fiance, Greg, from her on the eve of their wedding. Even worse is the fact that Greg died, apparently on his way to see Carly, sending a cryptic text message to her at the time of his demise. Carly needs to somehow punish this woman, and retake the memories and belief in the love of Greg, so she figures out a way to use her art to attract the attention of the famous Anna Garibaldi. After meeting Anna, and falling into the compelling connection and relationship that springs up, Carly seems to come out of her grief, to become more lucid, although her obsession simply transforms.
Anna Garibaldi is an enigma at first. She has very obviously become involved with Greg, but we don’t understand why at all. Anna has been a model, an actress, a singer, a director, and an author. It seems like every few years, she reinvents herself, and whoever she becomes is just as successful as her last iteration. When she and Carly finally meet, we find a woman who has suffered immense tragedies in her life, and whose loss is ongoing and very present, even as a strange and fascinating connection springs into being between the two women, a connection that first rested on the love each had for the man they’d both lost, but very quickly becomes about so much more.
The Writing Style
This book is fast paced, with many plot twists that I simply did not see coming, doled out evenly within the story, keeping the story hurtling at breakneck speed as I waited, stunned, for the next revelation. The language is rich and evocative, creating a new world for these characters to lose themselves in love and obsession. However, the very lushness of the writing requires a listener to focus intently on the narration.
Christine Williams does a masterful job at narrating this book. Her pacing is outstanding, and her voice makes the story come alive. Some people have suggested that they had a hard time following who was speaking, but I personally did not have that problem. I will say , however, that I had to pay very close attention to the narration. If I let my attention stray for even a moment, I found I had to back up and listen again to make sure I was following the story.
This book made me grow as a reader. This is a lot like the literary classics I read in high school, such as The Grapes of Wrath, or To Kill A Mockingbird, with layers of symbolism and deep meaning. The story was intense and gripping, and I will never forget it.
This book is definitely a tragic retelling, so there is no Happy Ever After. That may not be a con for someone else, but I definitely like my books to end happy. Also, there is a lot of drama, and angst. Understandable for the story, but sometimes verging on too much for me. (My tolerance for drama and angst is regrettably low.)
I don’t think this book is for everyone. Those who read for a happy escape will not enjoy this book. However, if you are looking for an extremely well-written book that is something different from the usual romance-filled lesfic, this book may be for you. I will also briefly mention that the author has provided an alternate ending for the story, as this theme of alternate endings was prevalent throughout the book. I personally did not read the alternate ending. My personal feeling was that by having a tragic ending to the story, the result is a powerful read that sticks in the reader’s head. Also, it feels to me like this was the way the author first envisioned the story ending, with that great impact, and to read an alternate, “happy” ending would lessen that effect.
Excerpt from The Art of Peeling an Orange by Victoria Avilan
She didn’t believe me. I crossed the boundaries, the sacred space between us, bringing my left hand dangerously close to her face, revealing the shiny silver ring. In my heart I thanked Robert for having made my hands presentable.
She reached for my hand. She felt the ring on my pinky. “Like mine,” she said, keeping my cold hand in hers, rubbing it, as if to warm it up.
“Like yours.” I pulled my hand away from her in disgust. “Spare me your sympathies.” I took the ring off. “Read the engraving on the inside of both rings,” I said harshly. “Carly and Greg forever. His name was Greg.”
She didn’t take the ring. She remained sitting, her eyes slits of great concern. What was wrong with this woman? How could she keep so calm? Yelling didn’t make her react the way other people reacted. Did the confidence of beauty make one immune to anger?
“Sit down and listen,” she commanded in that celebrated contralto she used to boss everyone around her. Not me.
“I don’t have to listen to you,” I said.
Flora appeared in the doorway and asked something in Italian. My enemy stood and answered in what sounded like the same fast dialect. Despite the composure of her voice, I knew she was about to kick me out.
I’d make it easy. First, I’d return the money.
I grabbed my purse from the corner and, with a shaky hand, wrote a check for one hundred thousand. Most of it was still in my account, minus the money I’d paid Zoe. I wrapped my silver ring in the check and threw both at the widow’s feet. The sound it made on the hardwood was too small to match my anger.
“Keep both rings,” I blurted out. “And the money.”
She didn’t bother picking anything up. She stood stoic, infuriating, in the cold light of those quartz crystals, letting me have my tantrum. Her Amazons, I imagined, were on their way. They’d soon lift me by the scruff of the neck and throw me off the deck into the stormy ocean.
I’d destroy her first.
What I needed gleamed on the coffee table, sharp and serrated. She was an imposing fantasy queen who had the power and authority to sever heads. Mine was gone, the next would be hers.
“Kyra, help,” I whispered, imagining my sister’s face.
Kyra wasn’t there to stop me when I seized the kitchen knife in both hands and, despite Flora’s shriek, did exactly what I’d wanted to do all along.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781514257654
- Publisher: Shaggy Dog Stories
- Audiobook Publisher: Audible.com
- Narrator: Christine Williams
Victoria Avilan Online
Note: I received a free review copy of The Art of Peeling an Orange by Victoria Avilan. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.