The Better Liar
By Tanen Jones
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
POC Main Character: No
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Leslie knows getting her sister, Robin, back to New Mexico is going to be hard. But she needs her there in order for them both to collect the $50,000 that was left to them by their father. What Leslie doesn’t expect is to find her estranged sister dead of an overdose in her apartment. A chance encounter with a woman named Mary who looks very like Robin leads Leslie to a plan born of desperation. All Mary has to do is pretend to be Robin. Mary and Leslie will both walk away with the money they are owed. But Mary soon realizes that Leslie is hiding something that could put all of them at risk. Everyone lies. Some are just better at it than others.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
Confession: I am a picky thriller reader. I have my favorites (Dark Places by Gillian Flynn and Sadie by Courtney Summers to name a few) but a good chunk of thrillers seem like they just are trying to be Gone Girl but miss the mark. What they miss tends to be that a story about awful women being awful without the social commentary is just misogynist garbage.
Enter Tanen Jones and The Better Liar. Did I pick this book up because I was promised QUILTBAG characters? Yes, I did. Did I expect to like it? Yes, of course, I don’t pick up books I assume I’m going to hate. Nevertheless, this book blew past my expectations. Here, at last, was a new thriller with something to say. Here are complicated women who make choices both good and bad. I devoured it, eager to find the twists, to see the character development play out.
Fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Thrillers that focus heavily on evil women tend to play into horrible stereotypes that the world puts on women. Gone Girl worked because it proposed that women who were all the things men accused them of would be monstrous and rare, if not non-existent. Where Flynn tackles the lies men tell about women, Jones tackles lies that people tell women specifically about their mental health.
Leslie is battling demons from her past, PTSD from a mother who wasn’t around and who was deeply depressed. Mary is running from a life spent without making deep connections due to her own trauma. Robin, in life, was isolated and very likely suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder. If they had gotten help earlier in life, if the adults who raised them had been more watchful and had a better understanding of mental health, these women would likely have been able to become well-adjusted. The story of The Better Liar is the story of how women’s mental health is swept under the rug until it explodes, taking lives with it.
It’s hard to fully express the way my heart twisted in fear for these women. Watching them spiral, swirling closer to their ending was both captivating and terrifying. I held my breath, waiting for the ending. I expected to feel sorrow, to feel anger. What I felt instead was a deep sense of relief.
I don’t like spoiling things but I will say that The Better Liar has one of the most satisfying endings I’ve seen from a thriller in years. It is hopeful in a way few “gritty” thrillers allow themselves to be. It is painful, yes, and there are struggles that the characters will face long after the book is over. Yet, there is hope for their future, for the future of mental health in this country.
This, I think, is what makes The Better Liar a five star review for me. There is a call to action not only for the characters, but for the readers. Jones shows you an extreme version of a real problem women face and then tells you there is hope. She could have gone down the darkest road, leaving the reader struggling to make sense of a world that is often cruel. Instead, she allows the reader to feel a strong sense of sorrow with the knowledge that things don’t have to stay this way.
It’s impossible to say much more without ruining the twists and turns of this book. It will tug at your gut and leave you sleepless. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. This is Jones’ first novel. I am eager to see what she writes next, because I know for sure I will be picking it up.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Better Liar? Make a donation to a pro-woman organization of your choice. Tell me in the comments where you donated, and I’ll consider giving a donation to them as well! You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.