Every Last Lie
Some of us are old enough to remember the commercials and advertisements with the slogan, ‘Maybe she’s born with it; Maybe it’s Maybelline.’ The idea behind that old sales pitch is that ‘real’ can be disguised. Truth can be hidden behind some cosmetic applications. In Every Last Lie, Clara Solberg finds out just what cover ups can do when applied to a flesh and blood reality.
Clara’s son Felix is just four days old when her husband dies. Nick had taken their four-year-old daughter Maisie to a dance class and been picking up Chinese for dinner. It was a thoughtful act; he had called home and realized Clara was far too tired to cook. But rather than a dad and daughter with takeout it is a policeman that next walks through the door. Dreadful words fall from his lips: an accident, so sorry for her loss, she needs to come to the hospital. Amazingly, Maisie is unharmed by the crash that took Nick’s life; or at least, that’s what the authorities tell Clara. But within days of the fateful accident, the little girl starts having night terrors. She begins to cry out in her sleep, “It’s the bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us.” Told by the police that Nick’s death had been caused by his driving too fast, her increasingly agitated daughter makes Clara question what really happened when her husband’s car met a tree head on.
Within days, and while Clara is still pondering what to do regarding Maisie’s nightmares, Nick’s secrets slowly start being exposed. The receipt for an expensive necklace is found in his underwear drawer but Clara had not received any jewelry from him. A close friend explains he had been laid off from Nick’s company due to financial difficulties Clara knew nothing about. Exhausted and overwhelmed by agonizing grief, Clara finds herself sinking down a rabbit hole. Realizing that what she once believed was reality was in fact just a clever façade, she wonders if investigating what happened the day of the accident will bring her answers, or just leave her with more questions. Only one thing is certain; the man she loved, the man she thought she knew so well was, in many ways, a stranger to her.
The story of Nick and Clara is told from both their viewpoints. We follow Nick in his last months of life, as he wrestles with the many things he is trying to keep hidden from Clara and the many reasons why. We follow Clara as she slowly investigates Nick’s death and the days and weeks leading up to it. Kubica is the queen of flawed characters, showing us a husband and wife whose exhaustion and struggles have lead them to some dark places. She reveals a relationship where the love is real but the people involved fear exposing too much of who they are. And ultimately we are forced to ask the questions, do we really want to know everything about our significant other? Does marriage end their right to privacy? Or ours?
Kubica does an excellent job of capturing the postnatal experience from the perspective of the mother. After the first few pages I was ready to take a sympathy nap, remembering well the exhaustion that accompanies being the caretaker of both a newborn and a toddler. The mental fuzziness, the emotional rollercoaster – they all came back to me as I turned the pages. I couldn’t imagine Clara’s torment as grief was added to that and then as that grief was intensified and confounded by the exposed secrets. The author invites us into Clara’s dark place and the invitation is so enticing it is impossible to say no to – but there are times you’ll wish you had.
Perhaps that wish is part of what kept this from being an A-grade read for me. Being inside the mind of someone who is exhausted and beleaguered was at times deeply uncomfortable. This is a woman completely overwhelmed – her mother has dementia, she fears her father is doing too much and dying as a result, she has a cranky infant and a traumatized toddler, financial troubles, a dead husband and a home that is breaking down around her. Just reading about her was incredibly wearying and I couldn’t envision how awful the life of a real Clara would be. Wait, I take that back – I could because I lived it with her page by page. I don’t know if it was because the author did such a good job of making these characters real to me or simply because I could relate to a young, exhausted mother but I became more obsessed by what was going to happen to her – how would she earn a living, take care of the kids, deal with the house – than what the tale was about. The past, the car crash and the marriage to Nick might have been the primary focus of the story but what occupied my mind was the present and future. The bills that needed to be paid and the home that needed to be made for two very vulnerable children. As a result, the book was less thriller for me and more women’s fiction tale about a struggling mom. The mystery is good, don’t get me wrong, but concern about the characters may very well draw your attention from it.
I think Every Last Lie will appeal to readers looking less for suspense and more for a cerebral yet emotional conundrum. The flawed characters, their very bumbling, human solutions to their problems, and their difficult relationships will draw your sympathy, frustration and admiration. You’ll find yourself challenged by trying to figure out just what happened and is continuing to happen. You may not be engrossed but you will be intrigued, which leads me to give the book a recommendation to those readers who enjoy spending time in dark places and tough spots.