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Book full of liars keeps you guessing until the end

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The Comfort of Lies

By Randy Susan Meyers

Atria, 323 pages, $29

"THE least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold."

Written by Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago, these words still ring true as exemplified by Randy Susan Myers' latest novel, an absorbing tale about lies and their emotional fallout in the lives of three women.

Myers is a Boston writer who burst onto the American literary scene with her 2010 debut novel, The Murderer's Daughters. Winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for Must Read Fiction, the book, an international bestseller, was translated into 11 languages.

Inspired by Myers' personal experience, the story involves two young sisters who witness their mother's fatal stabbing by their father; 30 years later, memories of the traumatic event still affect both daughters.

Set in Boston, Myers' sophomore novel also deals with relationships, albeit in the context of infidelity; the novel should particularly appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult.

In the opening pages, we learn about a year-long romance between Tia, a 24-year-old counsellor, and Nathan, a married professor in his late 30s. After she announces her pregnancy, Nathan suggests an abortion, but Tia refuses. Nathan then abandons her and confesses the affair to his wife, Juliette, minus any mention of the pregnancy.

Tia's infant daughter is adopted by a prosperous couple, Caroline and Peter, who call her Savannah. Once a year, they send photos of her to Tia.

Fast-forward six years. Tia mails Nathan photos of Savannah and informs him that they have a daughter, but his wife intercepts the letter. Shocked and infuriated by this news, Juliette concocts a scheme to meet the adoptive mother, who then contacts Tia. None of the three woman is completely honest with herself or each other. Nor is Nathan. Conflicts ensue when all of them lie and try to second-guess each others' motives. Before long, everything start to unravel.

The novel is divided into two sections. Part 1 provides readers with the back story of Tia and Nathan's relationship. However, the heart of the story is Part 2, with five-year-old Savannah as the linchpin. The plot thickens after Tia, Juliette and Caroline meet; as a result, a series of complications and entanglements occur as they vie for a place in Savannah's life.

Myers teases out the well-orchestrated plot in a frank, lean narrative written in the alternating voices of the three women.

Throughout the novel, Myers demonstrates her ability to characterize a situation with astute observations delivered in a few deft words.

About Nathan, she writes, "Keeping his marriage vows had come easy after getting over Tia, like a pacifist who'd adopted non-violence after dodging combat bullets."

In addition, Myers creates psychologically complex protagonists by imbuing them with contradictions. This combination of positive and negative traits renders the characters all the more intriguing, for we are never quite sure what they will do. Nor are the readers' first impressions of the characters always accurate.

For example, Nathan strikes us as warm-hearted, but demonstrates callousness to Tia on several occasions. Caroline, a workaholic physician, voices her ambivalence about motherhood to Peter, yet during her interactions with Savannah, Caroline's love for her daughter is always palpable.

Initially, Tia endears herself to readers, but she soon demonstrates weak coping skills when things don't go her way. On the other hand, Juliette may strike us as shallow, but eventually convinces us otherwise.

In the opening chapter, we sense that things won't easily be resolved, yet it's hard to stop turning the pages of this book; much to her credit, Myers keep us guessing untill the end.

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and editor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 J9

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