Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Deceits and Deceptions: Linden MacIntyre's Why Men Lie

Why do we lie? Is it to make ourselves look better? To reinstate emotional boundaries? To hide secrets? To protect ourselves? To protect others? More importantly why do we tend to tell the greatest lies to those closest to us? And, given that this is true, do we ever really know someone? The theme of deception, among other affairs that tend to complicate personal relationships, is deftly explored through Linden MacIntyre’s latest novel Why Men Lie (Random House Canada, 2012). Why Men Lie is the the third installment in a trilogy beginning with his 2006 piece The Long Stretch. (His last book, The Bishop’s Man, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. MacIntyre is also the co-host of the CBC’s flagship news documentary program the fifth estate.)

Why Men Lie examines the life of Fay (Effie) MacAskill Gillis, originally from Cape Breaton Island, now longtime Toronto resident, professor of Gaelic Studies, and department head at a major university. She is the ex-wife of John Gillis, protagonist from The Long Stretch, and sister to Duncan MacAskill, the priest from The Bishop’s Man. (Both characters appear in the third installment.) As an independent, confident, and successful middle aged woman, Effie is well aware of disappointments that accompany romantic relationships. She is also attuned to the innate ability of men to lie. When Effie is introduced she is writing off her second (and most philandering) husband Alexander Sextus Gillis after she hears of his latest illicit liaison. This fallout is diverted by a chance encounter with a handsome, seemingly well-adjusted, old acquaintance JC Campbell. JC and Effie begin, what seems like, a healthy, mutually respectful relationship. The novel becomes an open examination of her three past relationships and a dissection of her most recent romance with this gentleman from her past.

Throughout the novel, Effie also grapples with the issues of secrecy, infidelity and solitude. Comfortable in her hermetic state, but aware of the unbearable lightness caused by isolation, Effie tries to determine which she possesses. At one instance she concludes that the difference between “isolation and solitude is autonomy.” But she comes to see that when we allow ourselves to become emotionally vulnerable, while engaging in a relationship with another, we always give up some of that autonomy. MacIntyre draws us into becoming fully immersed observers watching Effie slowly give up some of her self-governance. As time passes, JC also reveals secrets, insecurities, and troubles. Some of those issues are revealed when JC, a journalist, covers the story of a Canadian man, Sam, on death row in Texas for a murder. His devotion to the case becomes his personal obsession. After an altercation on New Years Eve leaves her partner hospitalized, Effie begins to suspect that JC is satisfying his carnal impulses outside the relationship. While her presumption turns out to be false, the issue remains: she knows very little about JC. Why Men Lie is a fascinating examination of the contrasting opinions on the truth.

Author Linden MacIntyre
The book is also lined with introspective musings from Effie combined with flashbacks from the past. She reveals fragments of her childhood under the guardianship of a war-damaged father while reminiscing about her own lies told to her first husband John, the one she left for his cousin Sextus. Instant karma followed this break up when Sextus soon began compulsive affairs that were accompanied with further deceit. To escape Sextus’ affairs, Effie moved on with a man named Conor, whom she lives with until his untimely death. Conor claims to never lie, but instead believes in the necessity of “benevolent deception.” Throughout the novel, lies get analyzed, justified, and condemned. “It’s only what we know that matters,” is a mantra that continually reappears in the guise of that age-old 'what we don’t know won’t hurt us' philosophy. MacIntyre raises the question as to whether or not lies are used for protection. When examining the ones told by Sextus, it is obvious that they are part of his veiling of insecurities, or vain attempts to remedy those insecurities. The morality of lying is also examined by Effie’s brother Duncan as he exclaims that “morality resides in motivation. A well-motivated lie, by that standard, can be okay, maybe even good.”

The grey area between deception and secrets is also examined. Throughout the book, JC may not explicitly lie to Effie, at least not in the same way Sextus has, but he does not reveal his full self. Is this a lie? “Secrets are funny,” Duncan reveals to Effie. “They demand fidelity regardless of their worth. Even an unworthy secret is a test of character. That’s why I never messed with your secrets.” It can be debated whether secrets are but untold lies. Would this mean that all of us with secrets are subsequently liars? “We rarely see another human in his moral nakedness,” Effie concludes one morning while wondering about the actions of her counterpart.

Why Men Lie provides a potent emotional landscape that is a worthy addition to Canadian Literature. The novel offers not only a story, but a lesson in how we come to represent ourselves. Since geography always plays such a leading role in the genre, the shift in settings between Toronto and Nova Scotia resonates memorably. The characters, although troubled, struggle to be strong, respectable, and true-to-life. They face moral dilemmas, similar to those we all face, and each deal with them within their own capacities. Why Men Lie asks many questions. While it may not have answers to all the troubling questions about men, women, relationships, and lying, it has a way of keeping those questions burning in us as well.

Laura Warner is a librarian, researcher and aspiring writer living in Toronto. She is currently based in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre’s Music Library.

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