In the first of what I hope to make a series of posts, I’d like to talk about The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon (Pantheon Books, 2014).
I’m calling the series “What I’m Consuming.” I’m going to write about things I’ve watched, read, or heard (and maybe even eaten) that I liked and would recommend.
What it is and why it’s here
The Liar’s Wife is a collection of an odd genre. I’ve never seen more than one of these long stories/short novels together before. The quartet comes to 288 pages in all, and comes together well. Three of the protagonists are women — two very young and the third just past retirement age. Only one of the main characters is male — an elderly man looking back on his teenaged years.
Two of the novellas plop real historical figures Simone Weil and Thomas Mann into plausible but completely fictional settings. Gordon then imagines a central character to put in his or her path and a series of events steeped in the figure’s heyday.
I’m writing about this here — with a heading that pledges I would recommend it — because of the characters, especially the female protagonists Jocelyn, Genevieve, and Theresa. Here are brilliant women, one of them fortunate in life (financially, family-wise, professionally) on top of that. The other two are survivors of World War II Europe and an affair with a pretentious professor, respectively. These women bask in and benefit from their enviable luck and talents, but also question their worth. It takes a great writer to create a woman who has a comfortable retirement, a loving husband, and thriving children, but wonders if she might be better off roaming the country in a Frito Lay truck and singing in dives — and Gordon makes the reader wonder, too.
How I came upon it
I read this book because Gordon’s daughter was a childhood friend. No joke! I didn’t realize at the time that Anna’s mother was a famous writer. But by this past fall, I knew it well enough to hightail it to Politics and Prose to see the mom from the stone house on North Oakwood Street.
Gordon is a fantastic reader. She read from the title work, performing the parts of the Irish truth twister, his Southern-born companion, and the Italian pizzeria owner as easily as the protagonist with a familiar northeastern American voice. I dug into the book a few months later, during what I’ll call a “working staycation” between semesters.
I could have binge-watched yet more Scandal over those cold, laid-back weeks, but the characters and stories in The Liar’s Wife kept pulling me back to the printed page. They kept me reading and made me think.
Until next time, happy consuming!