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The Liar's Diary Hardcover – February 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
A case study in the explosive effects of extreme denial, Francis's debut relies completely on its very unreliable narrator, with mixed results. When local violinist and composer Ali Mather, a very sexy 46, comes to teach music at the Bridgeway high school where narrator Jeanne Cross, a very plain 37, is the secretary, teachers and students alike are abuzz. Ali is separated from her mild husband George, and is soon sleeping with the 31-year-old shop teacher, Brian Shagaury (and also with car dealer Jack Butterfield). Jeanne is married to a buff orthopedic surgeon, Gavin, with whom she has an overweight, dyslexic 16-year-old son, Jamie, who attends the school. An unlikely friendship develops between the seemingly steady Jeanne and acting-out Ali, and Jeanne's purposefully flat narration is effective in doling out disorienting incongruities (as in the offhanded way Jeanne develops a serious pill habit). Ali's provocative lifestyle eventually intersects directly with Jeanne's home life. When tragedy strikes, Jeanne's Stepford routine holds for a while, then becomes a giveaway. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
When free-spirited Ali Mather takes a job as a music teacher at the high school, the entire building is abuzz with talk of her unconventional love life. She's married to a loyal and patient man but carrying on not-so-secret love affairs with a used-car salesman and a fellow teacher. Hyperefficient school secretary Jeanne Cross, married to Gavin, a prominent surgeon, is both fascinated and repulsed by Ali's unapologetic attitude. Although Jeanne has been unhappily married for years to a controlling man who is overly critical of their son, she has trouble admitting that her family is not as perfect as it may appear to outsiders. Then Jeanne finds with Ali the close friendship she has always longed for. But Ali's insights into the dark side of the Cross family, including Gavin's sexual proclivities, cause Jeanne to retreat further into herself, putting both her son and Ali in danger. Although her plot suffers from too many over-the-top twists and turns, first-novelist Francis does create a disturbing portrait of a hollow family done in by secrets and lies. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The back story on Patry is inspiring, and deserves a book of its own. She met the famous author, Marilynne Robinson, when Patry was a college student. Marilynne was living in Massachusetts with her husband, spotted a short story that Patry had written in a literary magazine and sent her husband to invite Patry to dinner. Over the years, Patry had never stopped writing, getting the occasional short story and poem published in literary journals, but also working as a waitress to make ends meet.
And then E.F. Dutton bought Patry's novel, The Liar's Diary and a few months later, Patry hung up her waitressing shoes for good. Not only did Dutton buy the book, they have brought out an audio version and it has been translated into many languages. Patry, after all these years writing and waitressing finally made it big. Then tragedy struck. Just when the book was making it big, Patry was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer, and over the last year has been in and out of the hospital numerous times.
The book stands up on its own, even without the back story about the author. It is billed as a "psychological thriller," although I'm not sure it needs the "psychological" qualifier. The narrator is the wife of a prominent physician in a suburban community, who, despite her social position works as a school secretary. Her seemingly placid life is upset by the arrival of Ali, the attractive new music teacher, who casually breaks hearts as skillfully as she plays her violin.
The narrator, Jeanne, winds up becoming a friend of Ali, her only female friend, but then the friendship begins to crack as she suspects Ali's relationships with her son and her husband. At one point in the story, Jeanne, reflecting on her own marriage, wonders "When exactly had the romantic veneer begun to peel away, exposing the void that was at the heart of our marriage?" But the veneer over the heart of Jeanne's marriage is not the only veneer that peels away, exposing a rottenness that she would rather not notice.
The book is very well written, as I would expect anything by Patry Francis to be. (She would know how to write that sentence less awkwardly.) And, yet, it's not quite a perfect book, much as I would like it to be. The ending is not quite believable. It depends on something on a cell phone and I don't think cell phones work like that; at least mine doesn't. I'm impressed again with how hard it is to write fiction and how almost fiendishly impossible it is to write good endings -- at least ones that meet my weird tastes.
Despite my picking, Patry has written a good book which I can highly recommend. I gave it four stars.
Jeanne Cross, a rather plain appearing school secretary meets Ali, a beautiful engaging virtuoso violinist who has come to teach music. Ali befriends Jeanne which makes "plain jane" feel so lucky. But as Ali belies secrets, Jeanne's controlled, seemingly placid life disappears. It is replaced by lies, betrayal, anguishing pain and upheaval. Ali wouldn't lie? The truth can't be false, yet isn't it? No one has ever been as kind to Jeanne as Ali...or, is the truth that no person has been ever been so UNKIND?
Married to a prominent, egocentric doctor, Gavin, and having a son that is deeply troubled, Jeanne lives in that elusive state of denial. Until Ali insists she open her eyes Jeanne floats through the day, anesthetizing herself with spirits at night. But, even booze can't keep the truth from rearing it's ugly head when it is unleashed. Or is it the truth? To believe or not to believe that is Jeanne's question?
This tale has one turning pages at rapid speed. Just like Jeanne you do not want to believe the evil that lives within people and yet you are annoyed at her naiveté. You are compelled to search manically with Jeanne, plowing through pages for clues, all along being twisted and turned like you are riding an out of control "Scrambler" at an amusement park.
Plan nothing but reading this book once you start. You can't help it. It is that perfectly written and that enthralling. Be prepared for the end....it will knock your socks off. NO PEEKING!!! :}
Francis begins with one suburban housewife, Jeanne Cross. Jeanne has everything - a nice home, a son who is one of the most popular kids in his high school and she is married to a handsome doctor. Sounds idyllic and we know idyllic is boring - but wait!! Before you have time to come to that conclusion, Francis introduces Ali Mather, the "un-Jeanne Cross." Their mismatched friendship sets events in motion that never stop twisting and turning until the end of the book. And the ending is worthy of the best mystery/suspense novels.
Francis skillfully weaves subtle clues throughout the story. The characters are well rounded. Just as in real life, there are no angels here. Even the best intentioned characters make bad choices. This gives the story authenticity as the characters advance the plot. Well, this is difficult to write about because I want to tell you what happened, yet I don't want to give anything away. Someone ends up dead, someone else ends up dead, someone ends up in jail, and many secrets are uncovered. As you read each chapter, you will think you have it all figured out. To your delighted bedevilment, you will find you are wrong. That makes this a great read!