When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.
As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Blackly comic and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.*
This is a book whose narrative style takes some getting used to because it is told in the 2nd person point of view. Even once you get used to that, dialogue will break up the narration and you will have to adjust once again. Despite the slight discomfort caused by this, this book is a great read on mental illness, addiction, relationships (of many kinds–familial, platonic, romantic), and obsession.
Once you read further about the author’s brain damage (due to a ridiculous amount of concussions and extensive drug use) and the risk of memory loss associated with this, the second person narrative becomes easier to accept. I imagined as I was reading that it was a book written from the author’s present, relatively sane self to his future self, unable to remember who he was or what the major events in his life were. Roberge mentions again and again that when he was high or drunk, he never knew what he was doing or saying until someone told him the next day. The book felt like him telling himself what happened during the previous years of his life rather than simply the night before.
In addition to the unique narrative choice, the chronology of the book is highly unusual as well. It jumps around from year to year with no apparent rhyme or reason. One moment you are reading about a little girl the author knew as a child in 1977; the next paragraph you are reading about one of his benders in the 1980s. While this makes it really difficult to keep track of who is who, when the different stories take place in relation to one another, and how old the author is when the events take place, it makes perfect sense why he would choose to leap around in this fashion. In the beginning of the book he explains that he was diagnosed with bipolar as a teen and that, because of the disorder, his brain sometimes works so quickly the rest of his body cannot keep up. He never says so, but I’d imagine that the way he writes the book is the way his mind sometimes works, the way he remembers what has happened in his life.
It is perhaps ironic that I read this book less than a week after ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. There are many, many similarities between Roberge and Finch. For instance, both are bipolar, both focus on different methods of suicide (and in Roberge’s case, list various celebrities and how, why, and when they killed themselves), and both quote Virginia Woolf’s suicide note. Both books are brilliant and heartbreaking, though LIAR even more so because it is the author’s life and he must live every day with the terrifying realities he describes.
I read this book as a PDF, but it’s one I wish I had a physical copy of because there are so many sentences and paragraphs I wanted to underline and flip through later just to reread.
I’d rate this book at 4/5 and recommend it to anyone who is interested in any of the topics/issues mentioned above.
*I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The synopsis and cover image are from Amazon.com.