“The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Author: CJane Elliott
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 290 Pages
Rating: 3 Stars
**Review Contains What May Be Considered Minor Spoilers**
Blurb: Reeling from the news that his parents are divorcing, Pete Morgan starts his junior year at college cynical about love and commitment. Although his new openness to one-night stands does wonders for his sex life, fighting his romantic nature proves harder than he’d anticipated. He soon finds himself pining for a glamorous senior, Aidan, who doesn’t mind taking Pete to bed but shows no interest in commitment—at least not with Pete. And Pete’s attempt at a “friends-with-benefits” relationship with sophomore Jed leaves Pete feeling empty.
One bright spot in Pete’s year is Matthew, an easygoing graduate student who assists Pete in making his first film. Matthew has some baggage too, and has sworn off relationships and sex altogether, so Pete feels safe to enjoy their friendship. But he falls for Matthew anyway, not able to fight his growing conviction that Matthew is the perfect guy for him. Even if Pete can accept that he made a mistake when he turned his back on relationships, that doesn’t mean Matthew will feel the same. With a few life lessons under his belt, Pete’s ready to take a chance on love. As he finds the courage to bare his heart to Matthew, he can only hope that Matthew will take a chance with him.
Review: Serpentine Walls by CJane Elliott is an interesting study in how obsession and avoidance can lead us into a place of such guilt that we find it hard to either give love or accept love in return. The story revolves around a third year student at a Virginia University who has had a fairly lackluster love life to this point. Pete has had very few lovers in his life, and most of those have left him less than satisfied. Now, Pete’s parents are in the midst of getting a divorce, his father having already grabbed onto another woman and his mother struggling to find meaning in her life after five children and decades of marriage. Pete is living off campus for the first time with one of his best friends, Angie, and is looking forward to the freedom it will bring him. Angie, a hopeless romantic, assures Pete that this is their year, that definitely that one special someone will come along for both of them. Pete is not only skeptical but also downright commitment phobic due to the hell his home life has become over his parents’ divorce.
Despite that attitude, all caution flies out the window when Pete sees Aiden across the room at a crowded welcome back party. Aiden is not only gorgeous, he is mesmerizing, and Pete quickly falls under his spell. Now, unable to control the raw emotions and lust Aiden calls forth in him every time they meet, Pete is lost as he battles against his obsession with the aloof and promiscuous Aiden. Not only that, but Pete is hyper aware of Matthew, a grad student who seems to embody all that he would want in a relationship were he willing to entertain the idea of being in one.
As the plot of the story continues to evolve, Pete’s roommate, Angie, will be seduced by a mystery man who’ll also turn out to have his hooks deep into Aiden. As the novel unfolds we watch Pete bounce from interlude to interlude, always dissatisfied and always wanting something more yet unable to bring himself to admit that he wants a committed relationship. Pete’s life is a tangled web and, in the end, the very person he seeks to avoid may be his savior after all.
The novel Serpentine Walls began really well. The idea of a bird’s-eye view into the lives of a handful of college students had a definite appeal and author CJaine Elliott carefully wove interesting subplots into what would have otherwise been a simple story line. The idea of a college professor stepping over the bounds of propriety and dating his students, manipulating them in a macabre sort of puppet master way was one such plot point that kept this story moving along. However, along with the colorful cast of characters came the nagging feeling that we were just skimming the surface of many of them. Due to a rather rambling story that could, I felt, have used some editing to tighten up the meandering feel it grew to have, it was vital that we quickly came to care about Pete and his story, if no one else’s. Instead, I felt that along with his seeming aimless love life, I too was emotionally adrift from his plight. I kept waiting to be pulled into this story, to really care deeply whether or not Pete found true love and commitment. Instead, I felt distance from Pete, much the same way he held his heart in check from becoming involved. I felt my own emotional response to his angst and sadness begin to wane as the story grew longer and less focused.
I wish I could give you a definitive moment where I thought to myself, here is where this story lost its impact. I can’t. It’s not that this was a poorly written or constructed novel, it merely meandered way too long and made the same points over and over. I got that Pete was wounded due to his parents’ divorce. I understood that it left him somewhat gun-shy about embracing a committed relationship. I understood the guilt he felt over stringing along another character, Jed, who became little more to him than a person he turned to for sexual release when Aiden turned him away. But, you see, I came to those conclusions in the first half of the book. From that point, Pete stalled for me. He moved neither forward nor back; he simply swam in his own sea of confusion and ambiguity. Had there been huge twists and turns in the overall plot at this point to keep the novel from languishing, my focus would not have been so firmly fixed on the fact that Pete seemed to have the same running dialogue in his head with little change.
All in all, Serpentine Walls by CJaine Elliott was a nice story. Little in it stood out to make it either a poor novel or an outstanding one. It was simply an adequate hard won romance that felt too long and lacking in focus to me by the end.