I finished Justine Larbalestier's LIAR today. It's a book I feel like I've heard about a lot, but - weirdly - knew nothing about going into it.
*************THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEY**********************
and seriously, you don't want this one spoilered. to spare your eyes I will provide a cute image to fill some space. see, here is a kitten diligently reading a book, maybe even LIAR. But probably actually reading Rotten Ralph or If you give a cat a cupcake.
Coming out of it, I'm not sure I know much more.
It was a terrific book. Micah's voice is utterly compelling and real and intriguing. The structure of the novel - in sections of varying degrees of truthfulness - worked wonderfully, and presents some very interesting and provocative (and unanswerable) questions about truth-telling. The whole premise of lying, actually, as both theme and narrational device, is inspired.
I was perplexed, at the library, hunting for this book. Larbalestier's other books are in the fantasy genre, and I'd always thought Liar was strict old everyday realism.
And then, werewolves.
And then, lying.
And oh - there are more puzzle pieces at hand than there are in the finished picture, but how do I know which to discard? Larbalestier says the book is intentionally vague - clearly haunted by the ghost (or IS it a ghost?) of Henry James's Turn of the Screw. Or intentionally multiple, would be a better way to rephrase it. I can imagine this book driving my students insane.
So we don't know, and we can't know - not for sure - what the truth is here. Micah's our narrator, and she is totally, completely and always unreliable. Except maybe when she's not. Does she ever tell us the truth? What about? Does it matter?
Whatever the "truth" or Truth or truth is - how Zach died, whether Micah's brother exists, existed, where or what or if upstate and the farm are, if Micah has the family illness, and if that illness is in fact lycanthropy - there are some thematic truths here that struck me repeatedly.
This book is about Betwixt and Between, to borrow Barrie's phrase. It's about being some of more than one thing. It's about being a third in a binary world. It's a totally queer book, in a lot of ways.
Micah is biracial - and this assertion never changes. She lies about being a boy, at the beginning of high school. She is a werewolf, by definition a being that is neither fully human nor fully wolf. She is liar, except when she's not, which is when? She is attracted to Tayshawn and Sarah, almost equally. She is not anyone's girlfriend, except when she is.
She lives in a world that demands everything be resolved into binaries, and Micah is neither one nor the other. You could say the book operates this way as well: is it a fantasy about werewolves, or a very chilling story about an extremely mentally unbalanced girl? are the pills birth control, or are they antipsychotics, or are they some kind of sedative?
There are no answers to these questions. All possibilities remain open; Micah, in both her lying and her truth-telling (which we cannot distinguish from each other) refuses utterly to foreclose on any of them.
LIAR, and Micah, break binaries at every turn. Fantasy or psychological realism? wolf or girl, straight or lesbian, sane or insane, only child or sibling'd - there are no clear answers and - more importantly - no way to resolve any of these. The answers simply cannot be had, because part of the point of the book (as I read it) is to refuse to provide them. We are meant to be on shaky ground. Because it forces us to look at possibilities, at multiplicities - to think beyond binaries. To stick with binaries is to be endlessly frustrated with this book, and with Micah. To stick with binaries is to, in some ways, obliterate Micah. She cannot be resolved into one thing OR the other.
And so everything we think we know about narrative, about truth-telling, about werewolves and detective stories and YA romances and desire and family and Micah is blurred and opened up on itself. This is a book that generates multiplicity and possibility, and in that, it is absolutely brilliant, and revolutionary.
Our inability to know is put on huge display in this book. No one within the text knows anything for sure; none of us reading know anything for sure. This resonates with me particularly along gender-identity lines: the queered body, unknowable as male/female, straight/gay, resolutely and perpetually resisting and refusing to be known and categorized. There's a huge amount of power there, but there's also a huge amount of power being challenged.
This was a staggering book to read. I had to put off my planned errands for the day until I'd finished the last 70 pages or so; I couldn't not know. But of course, there is no knowing here. This isn't a smug or smarmy poststructuralist endless delay of meaning - there's almost a flat-out assertion that there is no meaning to get to. This is a kind of gauntlet-throwing in the face of all systems of classification and knowing.
I HAVE to teach this book. It will break everyone's minds, and that's exactly what needs to be happening.