Why do men lie? After several failed relationships, Effie MacAskill Gillis believes she knows, at least until she runs into an old friend JC Campbell and risks getting into a romantic relationship again. Linden MacIntyre’s Why Men Lie doesn’t really provide a definitive answer to the question; rather, the feeling one gets after reading the novel is that everyone lies, and usually for no really good reason. If you’ve read The Bishop’s Man, you may recognize Effie as the sister of Bishop’s Man protagonist Father Duncan. In Why Men Lie, Duncan is still disillusioned with the Catholic church, and lives in a homeless shelter to help the residents.
Why Men Lie is a bit of a downer. Despite Effie’s confidence that her experience has shielded her from future hurt, she is unable to see the extent of JC’s temper issue. We get a glimpse into her troubled childhood, as well as her previous romantic relationships, where, at various moments, she could identify with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I loved that description, yet also felt somewhat let down by it. For someone so reluctant to trust, Effie herself doesn’t seem trustworthy, and it’s precisely the reality of that moral ambiguity that MacIntyre emphasizes. We are presented with a deeply flawed, sympathetic character in Effie, which makes it all the more tragic when you realize that the men in her life — JC and Duncan, for example — are both hiding things from her. She is extremely guarded and suspicious, yet it appears she has every reason to be. There’s a sinking feeling throughout that this story isn’t headed toward a happy ending.
Why do men lie? Many reasons, and we learn that women are hardly exempt from dishonesty either. MacIntyre is less interested in the reasons behind lying than in the way men and women mature — according to one character, men are more likely to remain unchanged than woman are. Why is JC obsessed with an American death row inmate, and are his physical altercations indicative of a bad temper or merely rotten timing? And how far back do JC’s deceptions actually go? Why Men Lie is about growing old; it’s about reflecting on one’s past and realizing that you now view these events differently. It’s about coming to terms with one’s past and trying to give a sense of purpose to the rest of one’s life.
I can imagine Why Men Lie making the literary prize shortlists. It’s well-written, complex and with characters so real that you can imagine them living next door. Personally, it didn’t blow me away. I felt for the characters, but didn’t really feel invested in the story or compelled to keep turning the pages. I found it a slow read, which I normally don’t mind, but in this case, I kept wishing for a bit of humour, or at the very least, a quirky character trait, to break the mood. Still, like I said, it’s a well-written story, and if you liked Bishop’s Man, you’ll love seeing how these characters’ lives turn out.