Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: "Tell Me Lies" by Carola Lovering

Sometimes we can't help loving a person who is utterly wrong for us. It's not that we might not have anything in common, or we come from different backgrounds—it's when we love a person despite the fact that they treat us horribly, and yet we keep coming back, pretending this time everything is going to be different.

Lucy is a freshman at Baird College, a small school in California. She's so happy to leave her stifling Long Island home behind, full of preppy social climbers and those with no ambition except to marry each other, have preppy babies, and hang out at the country club. She wants more out of life than that—she wants to be a travel writer and see the world.

When she meets upperclassman Stephen DeMarco at a party she isn't impressed. He's intriguing, perhaps slightly attractive, but she just doesn't feel into him. Even though he tries to ask her out occasionally, she's just not interested in starting anything with someone for whom she doesn't feel anything.

Most men would walk away; Stephen sees Lucy's disinterest as a challenge. Little by little, he pursues a campaign to win her, using tried-and-true techniques which have worked on numerous girls and women through his life. He makes Lucy believe she is worth pursuing, makes her believe that she is beautiful and he wants her more than anything else. It changes something in Lucy, although it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on her to maintain what she believes Stephen wants and sees.

"People always say that you can't have your cake and eat it, too, but you can. I know what girls in Lucy's position want to hear, and I can provide that. More flattery doesn't make the girl feel better, just addicted, and then you've hooked her because she continues to be hungry for that certain category of feedback."

It's not too long before Lucy and Stephen start an intense, on-again, off-again relationship that spans Lucy's entire education at Baird, as well as after she returns to New York following graduation. Her relationship with Stephen consumes her—she's either thinking of him, wondering what he is doing when he's not with her, or making herself sick that she's not with him. It exposes her every vulnerability and puts her other relationships and her education in jeopardy.

Both Lucy and Stephen have secrets they hide from one another. And as Lucy tries, over and over, to regain control of her life, she can't resist her feelings for Stephen, and she knows that if everything was perfect, he'd feel the same. Is she wrong to keep pinning her hopes on someone who keeps disappointing her? Will it ever be different?

"What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn't trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad."

Narrated in alternating chapters by Lucy and Stephen, Tell Me Lies is a compulsively readable, soapy, and fascinating look at both sides of a relationship. You see the unvarnished, unlikable truths about both characters, their vulnerabilities and foibles, and what they'd like to portray to the other. And as each feels that pull from time to time, you see how a relationship—whether or not it's love—can be all-consuming.

I couldn't get enough of this book, even though the characters are pretty unsympathetic. Carola Lovering does a fantastic job of drawing you in to this push-and-pull, this obsession of sorts between the two characters. You almost want to look away at times when the characters' vulnerabilities are so exposed, and you also may look back on your own life and wonder which of the characters' behaviors you might have emulated at one time or another.

At times, this is a pretty brutal book, and the relationship and the periods between encounters dragged on a little more than I would have liked, but I couldn't stop reading. I was glad that Lovering didn't go for full melodrama with one plot point, and I was glad another major issue was settled before the book ended. While it's not quite the sunny beach book you might want, it's definitely an addictive read you'll devour.

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