“Tragedy is ugly and tangled, stupid and confusing.”
This book. Oh man. This book! It was not what I expected. So not what I expected. It did me in. It’s fresh and new and yet unbearably familiar. Before I get into what I was expecting from the book, I’m going to address something right up front. If you have any interest in reading this book, just go do it. Go in blind. You shouldn’t know what to expect. Let the story build as you read it. Just ride the wave. I’d noticed in reviews that people weren’t really talking about the book content in their reviews. I didn’t really understand why. They were all saying what I’ve just said – go in blind. I didn’t really understand why so many of them were saying this. Now I do. You just can’t really talk about any part of this book without ruining it for the new reader. Even I won’t talk specifics, and I am an unapologetic spoiler reviewer. I’m not going to do that here. I’m only going to talk about the concepts in the book. But you shouldn’t even read those. Just go get it and read it. It will take you somewhere if you let it.
I’d read fantastic reviews – which in YA somehow leads me down a path to wretched books more often than I would like. But I’d also read reviews that called it pretentious and found the style distracting. Turns out these two problems are completely entwined. The broken, fragmented style of the sentences created an atmosphere that could certainly be read as pretentious, but not for me – I loved the style. It exactly the type of fractured, stylistic writing I gravitate to. I love how frantic and desperate the writing style made certain moments. It draws the reader inside the thoughts of a girl who has known her life for so long. Known the exactness of her family. Known exactly how everything will be, until it all falls apart. But she doesn’t know how it broke. She doesn’t remember her trauma.
Cadence spends the novel trying to recreate the night that changed everything. The night she was found alone in the water. Embedded in the novel are fairy tale tropes, with a sprinkle of King Lear. The power of threes. Three daughters specifically. Three daughters trying to earn the love of their father. Cadence keeps writing her own fairy tales, changing the focus little by little until she, and the reader, get closer and closer to the truth. The stories start with only daughters and eventually work their way into children and abandonment. As with any good fairy tale, the perfect family is slowly uncovered to be less than perfect. To have something dark and evil at its heart. Every member of this family is damaged in some way. Understanding that damage gets us to the part of the novel that gave me the most trouble. The title.
What the fuck does the title mean? Cadence explains that it was the nickname of their little group of four. The oldest of the grandchildren. The liars. But she never explains how they got the nickname. I spent days after I finished the book thinking about this. I could not get it out of my head. Why were they liars? What were they lying about? Who called them liars? No one other than Cadence is ever heard referring to them this way. The lie in the story goes beyond children’s fibs. The lie of this book is the great lie. The lie of family. The stifling, suffocating lie about the perfect family.
Cadence is a Sinclair. Sinclairs are a wealthy family. Own your own island, bequeath a building to a university type wealth. A family that never disagrees. Never disobeys. Never steps one toe outside the designated path. There are no problems. There are no disagreements. Everything is perfection wrapped in exquisite perfection.
Except that it’s not. The caring, charming grandfather lords his wealth over his daughters. Making them beg for their piece of the pie. The daughters use their children to appeal to Grandfather Sinclair to make sure he knows that they are the daughter that loves him most. That deserves the most. That gets the biggest piece. The grandfather uses the children to turn the sisters against each other. Telling each one that his/her mother is the most deserving and the others are found wanting. Tensions rise and rise and the amount of wine imbibed increases exponentially until the sisters are ready to tear out each other’s hair over tablecloths and ivory figurines. Until the kids have had enough. Had too much. Have been done in by their parents. By their family. By their name. Reputation has ruined relationships. Friendships. Everything.
Cadence is our narrator. We get to know here from her happy childhood into her newly damaged self. We should feel bad for this girl who now suffers from crippling migraines. But she’s not a sympathetic character. She fishes for pity. She has no experience outside her life bubble. She is as sheltered and selfish as the mother and aunts she’s come to hate. The lifestyle she doesn’t want but doesn’t know how to live without. She’s a selfish, broken unreliable narrator. This could have killed the book, but it’s these exact qualities that make the novel work. I’ll definitely be buying a copy of this one for my shelf.