Bed of Lies
A moving read requires more than dumping page after page of misery on the characters. That’s a distinction Bed of Lies fails to make. This book is simply depressing. It’s more than 300 pages of misery topped off by a happy ending that’s about as believable as kissing a boo-boo and saying, “All better.”
Zach McRae was once one of Julie Morrison’s closest friends. But when she runs into him at the Memphis restaurant where she’s eating with her fiance’s family, he’s the last person she wants to see. Her fiancé knows nothing of her painful childhood growing up with an alcoholic mother and stepfather. She’s lied to everyone about her past, and Zach, who she grew up with, has the potential to ruin everything.
Julie is a difficult heroine to like. This is a woman desperate to marry her fiancé as soon as possible because then it won’t matter if he finds out the truth about her. He’d never divorce her because marriage vows mean something to him. Obviously, this is a woman with some Serious Issues.
I tried to withhold judgment, because the author introduces Julie as this quivering liar afraid of being revealed long before she tells us why she is this way and isn’t just a horrible person. But even once Julie stopped lying and began to confront her past, I still didn’t like her. The woman would. Not. Stop. Crying. Julie constantly seems to be weeping or sobbing or wiping away tears or on the verge of them. She’s worried? Tears. She’s ashamed? Tears. Someone does something nice for her? Tears.
It’s not long before Zach joins her in melodramatic displays of anguish. He is an attorney in town representing a mentally deficient 14-year-old boy who killed his abusive father. Zach empathizes with the boy, as his own father was an abuser who murdered Zach’s mother. When the case ends badly, Zach takes it hard and completely loses control. Julie tries to comfort him, and they end up in bed. Of course, this only causes more torment for both, as Zach and Julie are both engaged to other people. Meanwhile, Julie has to go back to Ohio to deal with her teenaged half-brother, Peter, who is in state custody after their parents were arrested for stealing money from the local bank. Julie is forced to face her issues toward her mother and stepfather and the anger of Peter, who feels she abandoned him to their good-for-nothing parents when she left home years ago. If only the rest of the story had been as good as this sub-plot! When Julie is with her brother, she quits crying and acting sorry for herself and shows some mature, and occasionally tough, love.
Clearly, this is a story that ladles on the anguish in a way that is more manipulative and heavy-handed than genuinely emotional. The first hundred pages in particular are excrutiating in the way Hill fills almost every page with pain, sadness, awkwardness, and uncomfortable moments. If I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I would have stopped reading to save myself experiencing anymore of it. Julie and Zach are a tag-team of misery. First she’s jittery and messed up and he’s understanding. Then he’s anguished and she’s comforting. Then she’s flailing around and he’s her rock. Then he’s torn up inside and she’s there for him. Their encounters seesaw between who gets to be miserable next. I almost expected one of them to say, “You just cried. It’s my turn.” I’m all for characters who are healed by love, but the back-and-forth trading off of agony made me nauseous.
A story like this can only be rewarding if it shows the characters overcoming their pasts. There is a glimmer of this in Julie’s story arc, but none in Zach’s. The problem is that Hill emphasized how Julie and Zach’s issues are so huge, so deeply ingrained in their characters, that there is really no way she can convincingly have them overcome them in the short time span of the story. After seeing all their anguish and just how messed up these two are from their parents, it’s going to take quite a bit to make a happy ending believable. This one doesn’t come close. The last thing these two need is relationship – what should come first is time and a great deal of serious therapy.
Late in the story Zach is still haunted by his father. He appears to overcome this either through the sex he and Julie proceed to have or through the therapy he receives shortly afterward, which naturally happens in scenes we aren’t shown. God forbid the author should let the reader see some of Zach’s growth after treating us to page after page of his pain. Similarly, at the end of the second to last chapter Peter is convinced Julie is going to leave him again. Skip head two months, she’s still there and he’s all better. Most upsetting is the way Hill uses Zach’s client as little more than a cheap plot point. The author and her characters may have forgotten about him once his usefulness in cranking up Zach’s pain was over. I sure didn’t, and it made the “happy ending” that much more hollow.
This book featured far too much heavy-handed misery without nearly enough of the emotional catharsis necessary to make it a rewarding experience. Readers who enjoy certain types of women’s fiction, the kind where nice people are put through more trials than Job, may enjoy this one. If the goal of Bed of Lies was to move the reader, it failed on this one. If the goal was to make the reader as miserable as the characters, then mission accomplished.