The Lies That Bind
The Lies That Bind starts out on a simple path – a romantic one – that promises weeping violins and heart-tugging romance. Then at the halfway point, the author employs 9/11 to facilitate soap opera sentiments, and we’re reminded abruptly that – even almost twenty years later – employing an enormous tragedy as an excuse for soapy melodrama in your romance book is not the best of ideas. Especially when your ‘hero’ is the kind of man who… well, we’ll get there.
It is the spring of 2001, and journalist Cecily Gardner is in a Lower East Side bar drunkenly lamenting the loss of ‘the one who got away’, the long term boyfriend with whom she’s recently broken up. She’s strongly considering drunk-dialing him when a stranger tells her not to do it.
She and said stranger have a brief conversation and fall into bed without exchanging names or numbers, and in the morning she learns his name is Grant Smith, and he trades stocks and has an office in the World Trade Center. They exchange life stories, and begin a relationship that soon means much too much to Cecily, but Grant feels elusive to her, drifting in and out of contact and in and out of her life, appearing in the middle of the night like a besuited Edward Cullen, and using the serious illness of his ALS-stricken twin brother as an excuse to be out of the country. Cecily was already questioning her status as a moderately successful journalist and whether or not she belongs in New York at all, period, so his lack of availability unbalances her.
Yes, you can smell the 9/11 storyline inching up on you, can’t you, like a mugger or a big fart? Grant disappears in the middle of the chaos, and a frantic Cecily uses her journalism instincts to try to find him. Then she sees his face on a missing persons poster – with a cell phone number attached to it. This makes her realize someone else is looking for him. One phone call placed by a friend later and she realizes he’s been living a double life. As Cecily peels back the layers of Grant’s existence, she’s left with the ultimate question – can she walk away from him, even though she knows he’s been lying to her?
The Lies that Bind’s success with a reader will hinge upon two things – whether or not they’re immune to their memories of 9/11 and don’t care whether or not the event is used for romance novel fodder, and how strong a stomach they have for cheating. But even the average reader won’t enjoy the predictable tastelessness of this plot. For yes, in case you were wondering, readers – the person looking for Grant is his wife.
I’d protect the secrets of a better book, but no, this one doesn’t deserve a cloud of secrecy around it to promote its tasteless existence. Oh, the author tries to make us feel sorry for Grant – he was under so much pressure! He and his wife were headed for divorce! They had a big wedding instead of the small private one he wanted, boo hoo! Cecily would NEVER do that to Grant, whom she understands SO MUCH BETTER than his wife. Unfortunately, Grant is, at the end of the day, the kind of guy who used a national tragedy to cover up for his illegal business dealings, fake his death, and get out of a bad marriage and pretended to be his dead brother in emails to his “beloved” Cecily. Yes, really. And of course Cecily forgives him and breaks up with Matthew (the ex she got back together with on the rebound from Grant), whose main sin is being well, boring? Being unaccepting of her being in love with this other dude who committed at least three crimes punishable by law? Being unenthusiastic about a child they didn’t plan for (of course Cecily is pregnant, because – Soap).
I liked Cecily for the first half of the book. She’s understandably distraught as her search for Mr. Right keeps resulting in Mr-Sociopathic-Liar. She backslides, she tries to throw herself into the romance – but she is a journalist at heart, and a realist. She cannot make herself do it. Then she falls apart as the plot twists her into foolish knots. One leaves the story embarrassed for her very existence, and in the end she comes off as a spineless, weak fool.
Grant wasn’t appealing before he was revealed as a liar, so I’m afraid he doesn’t improve. But at least he’s rich. Yay?
The other characters fair as poorly. Scottie, Cecily’s best friend, is a caricature of a gay man who makes ho jokes about her pregnancy, and who ends up serving little purpose in the overarching plot other than to serve as a babysitter for Cecily’s kid. Amy, Grant’s wife, is generally pleasant and sympathetic until the author needs her to be cold and “unfair” to Grant in order to have the book’s ending make sense. Her parents and brothers are bland, as are her friends and colleagues at the tiny newspaper where she miraculously launches a career that takes her to the New Yorker. Yes, really.
And here comes the plot. A plot which crashes into the barricade of common sense and spins out, adding on ridiculous layer of contrivance and soapy happenstance that James E. Reilly only wished he had thought of while creating Passions. It’s not enough to have the hero fake his death, or the heroine to have a surprise pregnancy and who’s-the-daddy drama, but we need email tampering, fraud, and emotional blackmail. And if you start a story as a paean to New York and its beauty and its resilience (and even go into gruesome detail about how people died in the towers), perhaps your novel shouldn’t head into the home stretch with the author shrugging and leaving it for small-town Minnesota, where people “understand her no matter what.”
The Lies that Bind works best – if it works at all – as a soapy, messy indulgence left to dramatic readings. It’s tragically trashy, and not even in a fun way.