Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When A Story Becomes A Liar

I have been reading the book Liar for about two weeks and can’t put it down. It’s one of those books that I’ll find in bed with me the next morning, because I fell asleep reading it. I knew the premise of it, but oh my gosh, you find out it’s nothing like what is on the jacket flap. Nothing! And I wonder how readers of the book have kept its secrets from other readers. The stuff that happens in it is a total surprise to me, I never saw it coming.

Part of the allure of Liar is the main character Micah. She states on the first pages that she’s a liar, but we can trust her. I soon learn that we can’t. Her stories keep coming and each time she gives us a truth, she reveals a lie (often one of omission) to the point where I don’t know if I can believe anything she says. But I want to, and I keep believing the new lies she spins.

Justine Larbalestier is a genius when it comes to story construction. I couldn’t do what she has done in a million years (although I’ll strive to!). She continues to fool the reader over and over, and I keep telling myself that I should have seen it coming. I’m not done with the book yet (about fifty more pages), and I have a feeling the ending is going to be nothing like I first thought from the beginning.

The book got me thinking about what I call The Sixth Sense syndrome. Have you seen the movie? If not, you’re about eight years behind and I’m going to spoil the ending (so cover your ears!). You watch the movie and unless you’re really smart and pick up on clues (which I wasn’t), you find out at the end the Bruce Willis' character was dead the entire movie. It’s one of those moments where you could totally see that, but you didn’t. The movie has fooled you.

What do you think about this syndrome? It’s what I’m seeing in Liar. Although Micah starts the story by stating she’s a liar, she continues to make me fall for her story. Do you like writing like this? How do you feel about a narrator who isn’t reliable? What if you don’t find out that things are being held back from you until the end? What if the story you have read is really a completely different story?

I’d loved to hear your thoughts on this. I know I’ve talked a few times about the story that is pushing to get out of my head, and part of this story is one of omission. As a reader, do you feel fooled? Does it make you mad? Or do you like not always knowing the story’s fact from fiction?


Christine Fonseca said...

I like it when the writer can fool me a bit...Great post!

Kristan said...

By Kevin Costner you mean Bruce Willis... lol, but yeah.

I think I could like an unreliable narrator, so long as I don't feel cheated/tricked. It's one thing to keep the reader guessing; it's another to change things as the reader goes along, which means we never had a chance of figuring out the truth.

Your complete intrigue with Liar has me even more convinced that I should check it out, though. I enjoyed Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES series (he's Larbalestier's husband) and Justine's blog is great. Well it's on hiatus because she's got some RSI she's working out, but it WAS great, and I'm sure it will be again. :)

Rachele Alpine said...'re's Bruce Willis! I changed it! Ha! I haven't read "Uglies" yet, but I should check it out.

Angie said...

I didn't get that about The Sixth Sense either - it was done really well. But the thing with that was that the MC didn't know he was a ghost either, so it fit. In general, I don't like it when the narrator lies to me. I read Evernight and really disliked it because of that. Spoiler alert here - in that book the main character is part vampire, the child of two vampires and goes to a school for vampires. Only she doesn't say that until half way through and then it's like - BAM! suddenly the whole book is about how different her life is because she's a vampire. The thing that bothered me about it is that it was in first person. The MC is telling the story, and for the first half of the book we hear nothing about this strange existence of hers and then suddenly it becomes the most important thing in the book. The author was purposely keeping this info from us to create this "surprise", even though I knew it was coming. That bugged me! And yes, I know the book is from an AWer, but I've been wanting to get that off my chest for a while and your blog post seemed appropriate. Sorry if I got a little carried away. :)

Kara said...

Now I want to read Liars :)

@llison said...

I like unreliable narrators to a degree... like crazy people, serial killers, and people who flat out state they're liars. Sometimes, though, I feel like the author uses this almost as a deus ex machina to twist the ending.. so I'm kind of torn on it.

I always dive back into YA lit in summers, so I'm excited to read Liars!

Talli Roland said...

Sounds like a great book!

I quite like a little bit of surprise at the end, but I HATE the 'and then she woke up and discovered it was all a dream' kind of thing.

As long as readers don't feel cheated, I'm all for it!

Sage said...

I haven't read Liar, but from what I've heard about the book, the fact that she lies throughout is well-done, and she does tell us right from the beginning that she's a liar. That is sort of the premise of the book, so you go in expecting it.

I put Sixth Sense (and other plot twist movies) in a different category. In 6S, the MC doesn't know the plot twist himself. He's not hiding information, either purposefully or by omission because he doesn't know. Another thing with movies is that cuts away from scenes don't feel like cheating if done well. The trick is to make you feel like you didn't miss anything.

This is rarely done well in books because if the MC knows something important/the twist, why would they hide that information from their own POV? If we're in their head, why wouldn't we know? What often happens is a POV character will spend a lot of time thinking about not thinking about this certain thing. What's worse is that most authors fail by telling us exactly where we're missing information. "But that was nothing compared to what he saw now. [break away from character for three scenes]." "I couldn't wait to implement my plan [that I'm not going to tell you]". That works better on tv or movies because we don't know what the MC is thinking, and even if they plan out loud with, say, friends, if we weren't there for it, we don't feel like we should know. Books usually can only get away with this when the POV character isn't the one in the know.

Or when we know they're liars ;)

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to get to this book.

I love being tricked by an author or filmmaker. The ending of The Sixth Sense lingered with me. It made me go back and look at the whole movie and the subtle clues that were in place.

Lisa Nowak said...

Wow, I'm not sure. I really like the twist of The Sixth Sense, but I think I would get annoyed with a character like Micah. I do like narrators who are somewhat unreliable, though. Where you as the reader can see the facts, even though the character mis-reads them.

Ruth Donnelly said...

I love Justine Larbalestier's writing. Thanks for reminding me about Liar... I still haven't read it. Sounds like a hard perspective to pull off, so I'll be interested to see how she does it!