By Steven Gillis
Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book, 2017
“I have come to regard every relationship as its own intimate deception.” This is Eric McCanus’s view on love and relationships. He believes that, “…as love is organic, conceived in the heart by way of a chemical reaction, a synaptic impulse, with pheromones and dopamine made to dance, the course of any couple’s commitment is time sensitive and marches inevitably toward its own demise.” The reason for his cynical outlook on relationships is due to his recent divorce from Lidia, his wife of about ten years, although Eric would argue that this is not from where his views on relationships stems.
Eric is a writer who made a name for himself by writing a book entitled Kilwater. The problem is that his book only made him known because he’d sent a copy of it to a friend who was working as an assistant set designer on The Sopranos. His friend had placed the book on the set, and James Gandolfini just happened to pick it up during a scene. The title Kilwater was shot into living rooms all over the world, and Eric received his recognition.
Flash forward to twelve years later, and Eric has only managed to write one other book entitled Full Fog Front, which was, for all accounts and purposes, not well received. Failing to produce words for a third book and still bitter about his divorce, Eric sets out to prove that there is no such thing as a perfect couple. This is when he happens upon a couple, Matthew (Matt) and Cara at a supermarket. He comments that they seem so perfect on the outside and that they want the world to know it by purposefully flirting with each other in public. Eric becomes obsessed with them and stalks them to their house to learn more about them; he does this by taking mail out of their mailbox and then googling their names. He finds out that Matthew is a high school English teacher who’s published two books of poetry and that Cara is a landscape architect. He then embarks on a mission to destroy their marriage. Ironically enough, Eric has actually just begun a relationship with a musician named Gloria who he met through his new job as a band manager for various big-name bands.
Eric sets up a meeting with SunGreen (the company that Cara woks for) under the guise that he wishes to hire them to have some work done in his backyard. This is the first step in his plan to infiltrate the lives of the seemingly perfect couple, and Eric refuses to back down because he blames them for his writer’s block. When Cara arrives at his home for a consultation on his yard, Eric purposefully places a copy of one of her husband’s poetry books where she can easily see it. As if some greater entity had answered Eric’s prayers, Cara pulls out a copy of Kilwater, says that her husband is a fan, and asks if Eric will sign it for him. So it began.
The book continues with Eric, who is one of the board members at his local university, telling Cara that he would like to nominate her husband, Matt, as the reader brought in to read that semester, even though the university usually doesn’t like to bring in local authors. She of course says yes, and thanks him by inviting him over to her house for dinner. This is Eric’s first chance to try to prove that their relationship is a charade, and it’s not the last. He decides that if nothing else, they will become characters in his new book (which he plans to center around them, even though he completely changes their personalities when he writes them on the page). As the book continues, Eric begins to crave more and more content for his book, that be begins treating everyone around him as a pawn that he can move around to use as part of the new book he is so resolute on writing.
Throughout the book, Eric continues to insert himself in the lives of Matt and Cara, doing everything in his power to drive them apart. The question in the reader’s mind, that will have them turning the pages as fast as they can to find out the answer, is “Will he succeed?”
Steven Gillis has managed to write a hilarious book (one that had me laughing out loud, accidentally waking up one of my kids on occasion) that also balances the psychological, philosophical, and sociological depth behind relationships, how valuable and vulnerable they are, and how lucky someone is to truly find a lasting relationship.
Liars is a work of fiction that will have the reader asking themselves questions about their own relationships. That’s the kind of literary power Gillis has managed to exude through the 322 pages of his new book. I know that every now and then, I would look up from the book and just stare at my wife, wondering…It was almost as if Eric was sitting next to me, invisible to anyone but me, whispering things and getting inside of my head. I obviously mean this in a very funny tone, and am only trying to get across the fact that Eric is such a well-developed and complex character, that I found myself wondering if I had some of his cynicism in me. (I hope my wife doesn’t read this review.)
Liars is a book that will have you turning pages faster than a mystery novel. The language of the book carries its own weight, the plot structure (including the times we get to see parts of the novel that Eric is writing within the book) is handled in a way that encompasses the narrative dream. Both romantic and hilarious, this book is for anyone who has ever had or has ever wondered what it would be like to have a relationship. I think that pretty much means everyone.
Jared Lemus is currently the Associate Editor of the Jabberwock review. He has a psychology degree from the UA Little Rock and is currently working on his Master’s degree at MSU. His work has appeared in The Mochilla Review, Hot Metal Bridge Press, and Channillo.com.