A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all commercially published fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
Deerfield Valley News, 3/7/2019
The Art of Lying: a Thriller
Thomas Christopher Greene, The Perfect Liar. St. Martin's Press, 2019.
Max Westmoreland (better known as Max W, because his grandfather was General Westmoreland of Vietnam fame) and Susannah Garcia, a beautiful widow with a fifteen-year-old son, have married after a whirlwind courtship. Their lives have become all they could wish for. Max's talks on art (You are the art. We are the art. Everything else you have ever learned is total bullshit.) have gone viral, bringing him fame and several job offers, the best one a three-year residency in Burlington, Vermont. It comes with a beautiful house, a peaceful atmosphere, and the absence of the New York art world in which they both were struggling to find a place. All is well until one morning Susannah finds a note taped to their front door: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Susannah is puzzled and frightened; Max is more than worried, for the note potentially undercuts the legitimacy of the world he has built for them both.
Encountering the opening chapters, readers of thrillers expect a plot that builds suspense by slowly exposing Max's past "artistic" creation of himself in scenes that keep the reader guessing about the nature of his crimes while simultaneously following his violent reaction to the note. Instead, Greene spends the next three chapters revealing Max's background wholesale, a technique that considerably lessens the pace of the story. To overcome this problem Greene depends upon Susannah, whose voice alternates with Max's throughout the book (with the exception of two chapters given to her son Freddie). She has spent years in therapy for a condition never completely clear, so readers aren't sure whether her fear that Max is lying to her is justified. Soon, however, it's clear that it is, for a colleague with whom Max has gone running dies in an accident. Her fears increase as two more notes get taped to the front door and Max catches her Googling his name, thus discovering the source of his false identity. Unwilling to accept his "innocent" explanation, she senses that her life is in danger. She packs up Freddie and tries to escape, but the boy tells Max where they are … and reveals that Susannah has also been lying about her past. From there, the plot hurries to a violent conclusion that experienced readers have almost certainly anticipated, with a postscript that reflects ironically on the fashionable art world's inability to recognize authenticity.
Greene is the founder and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts; he is also an experienced novelist whose previous work has been translated into thirteen languages. This particular book, however fine its pedigree and its interesting portrayal of false lives, is not for everybody. Among other things, it requires readers to spend hours with two people who, besides being cynical about art, practice deceit and secrecy as necessary parts of survival, and who incidentally seem to assume that a sentence that doesn't contain obscenities cannot make its meaning clear. Those familiar with academia will be surprised to find that Max's credentials have not been checked, especially since a simple Google search turns out to reveal his past. The book is, however, a chilling portrait of the power not just of speech but of lies, and of the public and private breakdown of trust that inevitably follows when truth is no longer the foundation of life. As such, it's a book very much of our times.