The Truth And Other Lies by Sascha Arango (4.5 out of 5)
Henry Hayden is an author. He’s a bestselling author. Only problem is, he hasn’t written the books for which he’s won worldwide acclaim. His wife, the placid Martha, has. They live in a marriage that speaks largely of convenience. Separate bedrooms, separate agendas, he screws whomever he wants, she continues to write the books and let him be the “star”, they eat together and drink together and have pleasant discussions, and they “love” one another, as a man and woman in a marriage where the passion has long fled, and for reasons only Henry and Martha understand, they continue to stay together in the marriage. Henry’s having an affair with Betty, the editor at the publishing house he ‘writes’ for. That little rendezvous becomes less than idyllic when Betty gets pregnant and informs Henry he will be a dad. Henry confesses to Martha, who has an uncanny ability to know who it is, and she makes sure to mention to Henry that she hopes things continue “as they are” in the marriage. Henry then decides the only way he can ‘fix’ this is to get rid of Betty and the baby, solving both problems. He has an ingenious plan, but it goes horribly awry, and Martha ends up the victim, not Betty. So now not only does he have to explain to the police detectives the holes in his cheesecloth story, but he has to figure out how to handle Betty, who now believes that they will have a life together. Throw in a sub-plot of the head of the publishing house being secretly in love with Betty and offering to marry her, and you have all sorts of tangled webs. Honor, the loyal secretary who is secretly in love with the publishing head, figures out that Betty and Henry were involved and that he’s the father of the unborn baby, and she sets a few things in motion that have long standing consequences. Namely, because she envisions herself with the publishing head, and he’s dying of cancer and proposing to Betty, an interloper, instead. There’s a man named Gisbert, who’s onto Henry’s charade, and who’s been building a file on him for years, since he bullied Gisbert in the school they were together at many years ago. Gisbert has some incriminating information on Henry in a suitcase, and he’s following him. So he knows about all of this. Obsdiah, Henry’s friend, who owns a fish shop and is having a hard time keeping his business going and his violent rages away from his abused wife, has some part in all of this, as Henry’s true confidante, who observed Henry’s behavior the night of Martha’s disappearance, and puts two and two together, but stays silent. Throw them all in a pot, and you have quite a mix of psychological suspense, dark humor, and compelling narrative by Henry and the supporting characters. Things take a darker turn when Betty trusts her heart over her head and she walks into a trap set by Henry, and she, too, disappears. Jenssen, a detective on the case of Henry’s missing wife, now has reason to think the disappearance of two women so closely tied to Henry, is no mere coincidence. The puzzle pieces start falling into place quickly, and Henry finds himself under a dissipating cloud of suspicion. I say dissipating because you never really feel as if he’s going to get busted for either of the two disappearances, and then Martha’s body is located, and the investigation goes full tilt. There are no real clues how this book is going to turn out, until the very last page. And when I got there, well, I was pissed! Then I went to sleep and when I woke up this morning, I figured out why it ended the way it did- and it ties right back into the novel that Henry is “writing” when the book begins- and much of the book centers around. Perfect way to tie up the novel! Some things that are left hanging aren’t resolved, which bugs me, because they had to be important enough to be woven into this trippy tapestry, why abandon them without being sorted out? Maybe that’s part of the beauty of this book. Just when you think you have this sorted out, you find more things that boggle your mind. Definitely a book that stays with you.
A number of things on my mind with this book- first up is Henry. Likable psychopath? Sardonic sociopath? Womanizing pig? Someone who can’t bear to break his wife’s heart by ending what is basically a comfortable arrangement, devoid of passion and excitement? I have to think that Arango did his homework. There are many people out there living life in a lifeless marriage, and trying their hardest to make it work somehow. Those are the people who have affairs, one night flings, and emotional affairs- because by being honest and breaking the heart of the one you’re legally bound to, you’re letting them down. So let them believe in the sanctity of it, and stay with that person, but pursue excitement and passion at the Motel 6 down the road. It exists, no use in pretending that there aren’t open marriages out there either, because there are. It’s all about being happy. Henry clearly believes he’s happy. He believes Martha is happy- and actually, the reader buys it too. You buy that he loves Betty in his own, pathological way. You buy that he becomes friends with Gisbert, after causing the accident that makes the man a struggling vegetable the rest of his life. You buy that he truly wishes to become friends with Jenssen, despite the detective’s voiced concerns about his role in both women disappearing. You buy all of this, and you get to the end of the book and go “I wanted to hate Henry”. He’s pure evil, wrapped in a natty, suave package. But I can’t, because he has joie de vivre and many a reason that he grew into the person he was, with the actions and scant acceptance of those actions coloring his entire life. And that, friends, is how you write a book like this and get away with pulling off such a story with twists and turns, as well as dark nights of the soul, on many an empty abyss, and with a character like Henry Hayden. Sascha Arango deserves many kudos for pulling off this, and with such dark aplomb.
Another question- the two main ladies of the novel. The missing women. Martha and Betty. Night and day. Martha, a simple person who likes what she likes, a routine old as time in the way her marriage goes by day by day, and perfectly able to pour out whatever emotions she doesn’t address, by writing these masterful novels. A woman who does right by her husband time and time again, and who cannot understand, but does with quiet acceptance, why Henry cannot just simply be faithful to her and their quiet, quaint existence. And then Betty. A pragmatic, live-wire who goes after what she wants, even when he belongs to someone else. A semi-classy dame who thinks nothing of questioning things that don’t seem right to her, but thinks nothing of continuing her affair with Henry and keeping the baby, although she acknowledges that it’s not truly love, but physical passion. Two radically different ladies, and you feel for both of them. You later find out that they met and had an amicable meeting, in which both realized that there are different ways of loving Henry, and that you sometimes have to accept the dice you’re given with the game. Unbelievable. And you buy it. This author is that good with how he weaves the plot.
The only thing that threw me off was the ending, but again, after I slept on it, it made sense. It’s one of those books. You get to the end and go “WTF?”. But it makes perfect context in how things are laid out from the beginning of the book all the way up to the end. When I was describing it to my friend a little while ago, I described it as written similar to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets Alfred Hitchcock meets Black Swan. I will also go on record as saying it’s one of the biggest mind fuck books I have read in a long time. And it was all worth it. Although I don’t necessarily agree with how it ends, it does fit in with the context of the novel that not only Arango delivers to the reader, but that Hayden delivers to the reader. Perfect synchronicity.