The Perfect Liar
by Thomas Christopher Greene
Both Susannah and Max, the dual narrators of The Perfect Liar, overcame challenging childhoods. Susannah began having panic attacks in college then became sexually involved with her therapist. Max, who never knew his father, spent his impoverished childhood with a neglectful mother only to join a group of “crusty punks” and spend three years homeless migrating with the seasons. But they’ve put these struggles long behind them. Their fulfilling and intimate marriage only blossoms as Max achieves professional success as an artist and secures a prestigious appointment at a university in Burlington, Vermont.
However, when Susannah finds a note on their front door saying I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, the illusions she and Max have so carefully constructed crack under the weight of secrets and lies. After one of Max’s colleagues dies in a tragic fall when they were out trail running together, attention on their family only increases, and the ominous notes continue to arrive.
The Perfect Liar is an easy-to-read, fast-paced thriller with some surprising turns. It also plays with the idea that personalities and life stories are creations as much as a painting on a canvas. But there were aspects of the novel that diminished my enjoyment. In the first half of the book, characters unnecessarily insulted or mis-characterized the mentally ill, bald people, and vegans.
Throughout the book, certain details rang false. After a successful Ted talk, Max received a number of “luxurious” job offers from universities across the country. Usually, the academic job market is much more competitive than represented here, and I’ve never heard of high paying positions in an art department for a visiting professor. In the hospital, a nurse wrote on a clipboard, but it’s rare to find a medical facility that doesn’t have electronic records. And a description of search dogs made me think the author isn’t aware of how disciplined and well-trained these working dogs are.
I also had issues with the writing style. The transitions between changing character views were non-existent, though I hope this is an artifact of the reading copy I read and in the finished version, there will be spaces or a bullet/ornament on the page. Often, the author used “I am,” “I will,” and so on when contractions would have provided a more natural rhythm. At times, too, the prose exhibited a lack of polish.
The absolute worst part of the The Perfect Liar, though, was Susannah. She is a female character only a man could write, with a focus on her appearance and cooking skills. For her sex only seems to be about manipulating men or giving men a necessary release rather than any personal pleasure. When the family moved to Vermont, she became a stay-at-home housewife completely abandoning her career. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that decision, but it’s a difficult decision to make. Susannah demonstrates none of the conflict I would expect in a woman in her position. And this doesn’t even touch upon her seduction of her therapist. Max himself is a sexist prick, but somehow in a book like this, I’m not surprised.
Finally, while the notes were an interesting plot device and provided a sense of mystery, it is unclear what the sender ever hoped to gain from such a passive act.
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.