I’ve just started Ted Dekker’s Outlaw series, so I thought I’d review the series. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve reviewed a novel (not since T.L. Hines Waking Lazarus I believe) and it’s time I wrote one again. I’m going to be reviewing the first novel in the series, Eyes Wide Open (if you don’t count the Outlaw novel, which is the introduction novel to the series). So how does it rank in Ted’s amazing library?
Like most of Ted’s books, Eyes Wide Open is an adrenaline charged story that often makes you question your own reality and sanity, and that’s why I loved Ted’s Circle series. You never knew which world was real or not. Was it the Spiritual world, or was it the world we live in? That idea has been brought back for this novel (and I’m sure it’s been in others, but unfortunately I haven’t read all of Ted’s books, at least not yet).
So the story begins (Of course, spoilers may follow) with a troubled girl named Christy Snow. Her friend, Austin, had discovered a secret room at the back of a psychiatric ward named Saint Matthew’s. We find in the beginning that she owns a locket with which she wants to identify herself as (as the people in the picture it came with). She believes she lost it in the room, so against what she knows is right, she breaks into the room. After searching and finding it, she finds a secret passage through the wall and accidentally falls through. Eventually we find out that she’s trapped. She manages to get a quick call to Austin before her phone dies out, which unfortunately is too soon. After hours trapped below the hospital, she kicks her way out, escaping into the boiler room. She eventually gets found and it seems all will be well, until she discovers that her locket is missing again. By this time, Austin has followed her trail and explored the same path she found. He finds her locket and escapes into the boiler room, in search of his friend. But while there, he discovers something sinister happening in the ward. He finds a girl named Alice who’s tapped up while the doctor explains to her a form of therapy to treat her delusions. But this therapy doesn’t sound normal. In fact, it sounds deadly. The doctor then discovers Austin and leads him out the door. But as he believes he’s escaped trouble, the doctor knocks him unconscious. What unfolds next is something out of a nightmare, as Austin get admitted as a delusional patient, whose name they believe is Scott. They also believe he made up the story in order to escape. As you could imagine, the same happens to Christy, as her locket is no where to be seen, and because of the way she came in, the hospital believes she too was trying to escape. And like Austin, the hospital admits her as a patient. A patient named Alice.
What unfolds next is an extremely suspenseful story of escapism as the two characters try to escape the hospital, only to find it’s more twisted up than it at first appears. Nothing is as it seems, and soon they too start to conform to the doctor’s ideas: that they truly are delusional, and that they’ve been mental patients the entire time.
Eyes Wide Open, I admit, is a little of a strange read. Nothing they do will free them from the ward, and the place only gets stranger as the story goes on. It pushes their minds to breaking point, and in a way, the reader’s minds as well, as Ted makes us begin to question even our own sanity. He asks the question, “Who are you?” Are we ugly, as Christy believes? How does God really see us, and how can we break out of the mold the world places on us? That mold of expectancy that, as Christy believes, we always fall short of. It’s a powerful message, and one which we constantly need to be reminded of.
So is Eyes Wide Open worth the read? I’d say yes. But this isn’t Ted’s best book; for a number of reasons. First off, the action doesn’t quite hit that intense mark as his other novels such as Black, and even his newest, A.D.30 have hit. The suspense and care we have for the characters is strong in the beginning, but I found myself losing my connection with the characters as the story goes on. It feels like they’re only going around in circles with little to no growth as they struggle to decide if they’re delusional or not. The characters themselves are relatable, but they aren’t shown much depth other than Christy’s back story and that she believes she’s not good enough, and that Austin is intelligent, that he leans on that as his life source, and that he cares for Christy. Their personalities are really only okay as well. They don’t do anything that makes them really memorable, they simply struggle with their identity and sanity, which we find the truth to at the end of the novel. But we aren’t given much of a chance to find out who they are ourselves until the end. Maybe that was Dekker’s intention, to allow us to find our own identity along with the characters, but for the most part, it didn’t help me make a real strong connection with them. With that said, they are interesting enough to make the reader want to go on the ride with them, and their search for identity and perfection is one I believe all can connect and relate to.
The story itself is very intriguing as well, and it keeps you thinking and guessing throughout. But it’s with the ending that my biggest grope lies. It seemed kinda rushed to me. (Spoiler Alert) They meet Outlaw by the means of a pair of glasses, and he shows them the truth of who they really are: that they’re already made perfect in the Father. They use this knowledge to escape the hospital and find freedom. My problem was with the Outlaw character. It makes sense if one reads Outlaw, but without prior knowledge of that book, it just seems a little strange. He appears out of nowhere without any explanation other than he’s the Outlaw. The one who goes against the ways and views of the world, and teaches that in Christ, we’re all outlaws. It goes with what the story and series is saying, but it just doesn’t work as a standalone novel (Spoiler End).
The final thing to address is the content. For a Dekker novel, it’s actually really tame content wise, apart from one gory death scene. Let it be known that I’m not a real sensitive reader when it comes to violence, but for some reason this scene really made me feel icky. Because most other scenes are void of any bloody violence, the amount of detail in this scene verges on shocking, and to more sensitive readers, even sickening. That said, those who read Dekker will probably expect it.
Overall, Eyes Wide Open is a good book, but not a great book. It’s worth at least one read, and you’ll definitely get a powerful message from it. It’s even one that could change your life. It opens your eyes to the way Christ truly sees us, and that’s something everyone should see, even if the journey there gets a little redundant along the way.