Though it begins in 1990 with a woman named Lucy mourning the loss of her son on his birthday, James Whitfield Thomson’s Lies You Wanted to Hear is essentially the origin story of Lucy Thornhill and Matt Drobyshev’s troubled marriage, and what happens when a relationship built on a faulty foundation collides with an obstacle that cannot be overcome. When Matt and Lucy meet he is a young police officer from a modest background and means while she is the dilettante daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lucy had recently been deeply involved with the irresponsible and unfaithful Griffin, in a passionate and draining on-again/off-again affair. They never seem able to let go completely, and Lucy feels as if she should be ready to move into a more stable and committed relationship. Matt, for his part, loves Lucy immediately. While he suspects that Lucy doesn’t return the depth of his feelings, he is willing to accept what she is able to offer in the hopes that they can build a strong and loving marriage. There are many lies they tell themselves, but chief among them is that they will be happy together in the long run.
Thomson takes pains to establish Matt and Lucy’s relationship, and after their initial meeting and romance the novel progresses almost too slowly, and in too much detail, about the ins and outs of their marriage. The character’s stories unfold in alternating first person narratives, so while it is very interesting to see how they each view the relationship and each other, it is just as easy to see that they are mistaken in thinking they can successfully build a life together. Thomson bogs down the middle of the story unnecessarily, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the end, which is where the novel shines. I knew that something happened to separate Lucy from her children, but it was something I forgot to wonder about as I found myself lost in the tedium of Matt and Lucy’s marital woes and increasing animosity toward each other.
Putting the novel down for awhile ultimately helped me to finish it. I picked it up again, and the final third of the book had me hooked. For my taste, Thomson took too long to get to the meat of the story, but by the time he got there I was well versed in Matt and Lucy. I could see the perspective of both parents in the sad aftermath of their marriage, but I did little wavering between the two – though I felt I should. If you enjoy marital dramas, “he said, she said,” and don’t mind a little extra filling in the middle, Lies You Wanted to Hear will definitely warrant interest. Thomson clearly communicates how sympathy and righteousness can be granted either aggrieved party, but most readers will still play favorites with the characters (it’s almost impossible not to), as most of us will think we are as justified in our opinions as do Matt and Lucy.
Check out this interview where James Whitfield Thomson answers several questions about his writing, what he’s reading and Lies You Wanted to Hear.