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By Jo Gatford
Publisher: Legend Press
Publication Date: 7/1/2015
My Rating: 4 Stars
A special thank you to Legend Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
WHITE LIES a riveting contemporary debut by British author, Jo Gatford tackles family drama and complexities; with highly-charged subjects of mental illness, aging, end of life care, grief, dementia, parenthood, paternity, jealous sibling rivalry . . . and dark family secrets. More of a psychological suspense family drama.
Told in alternating voices we hear from the following for a week long saga:
Matthew is a grown man and has discovered his brother, Alex is not really his brother at all. His dad is not Peter? (Lydia left a letter). Shortly thereafter, Alex has a brain aneurysm and dies (on Matt’s birthday), outside his flat after an argument. He secretly thinks Alex did this on purpose to haunt him. Matt hates his brother; however, feels some guilt. Another question, if Alex is not Peter’s son, then why does his dad love Alex more? An ongoing question throughout the book - is this elementary school?
Matthew’s mother, Heather left the hospital as soon as he was born and has not been seen since. Matthew is obsessed with learning answers of why his mother left and why his dad, Peter loves Alex more than he. He thinks his dad is the only one with the answers. Always looking to blame someone.
Since Peter’s mind is not very stable, due to dementia, he knows there is not much time to gather his answers and it will be too late. It has been thirty six long years and he still cannot bring himself to ask his dad. Now it appears it is too late. All his dad talks about is Alex. He does not want him to die without telling him the truth; what really happened to his mother?
Peter, seventy-four years old, the dad; was married to Heather (first wife) and Lydia (second wife). His world has been reduced to a single room in the third-nicest dementia nursing home in the south east and his mind is downsizing, as well. His dread is knowing there will come a day when he blithely will give away all the things that should never be known. He fears as his brain melts, his tongue will loosen, and secrets could slip out.
The only way he is assured they have not done so already is the fact that they are still speaking to him. He has had two wives, and three children. He also went to Gloria a psychic after the police quite looking for Heather; she knows things.
Peter’s voice in the novel was the most absorbing and chilling. He is always vacillating between his dementia and worrying about keeping his secrets from his children. He still cannot accept the death of his son and flashes back to an earlier time he desires to forget. From humorous, to heartbreaking readers hear the innermost thoughts (the kids are so mean, who cares)? Peter is concerned about aging and does not want to be a burden, and lives in fear and denial and does not want to face disgrace or the truth.
Angela, step daughter still manages to love Peter who raised her like a daughter, stuck in between the pieces of a badly-fitted family jigsaw. Her mother was Lydia. The best part was when Clare tells her grandfather about her pregnancy, and he is thinking, “Darling granddaughter, find a sucker just like me to help you raise it.”
Peter's quote: “We make a crooked family tree. Twisted and diseased marked with an X for destruction. I can feel the roots in my forehead-gnarled old veins sticking out like embodiment of bitterness. I take two pills for the pain. (there is always the pills and the letters).
No likable characters here. No warm and fuzzy. Matt is self-loathing, a total monster. Peter is a martyr, Alex, was not much better, and Claire (niece), unpleasant to say the least. The only one you can sympathize with somewhat is Peter in his own twisted way.
I did enjoy the interaction with the other people in the assisted living facility which would make you laugh out loud and Peter’s thoughts. This was not a feel-good novel, more of a dark humor and somewhat a realistic view of many dysfunctional families, as why I like to stay far away from mine. When you remain at least 16 hrs away, you do not have to be involved in their daily drama.
The impressive part of the book is the writing, with great insights and depth with humor mixed in to offset the self-absorption, lies, and illness. The author addresses complexities of dementia, stress, and coping, as well as the flashbacks of Peter through the phases and milestones of his life as he recalls them -- Nicely done by Gatford. From childhood to parenthood, to old age.
On a personal note: As my parents are in their late 80s, one with cancer and one with leukemia, aging and healthcare is always front and center. We as baby boomers are facing our own future, while worried about the care of elderly parents, and tough healthcare decisions, as we see ourselves not too far behind.A scary thought --the time flies by as we see our new wrinkles each day.
I find it intriguing to read novels of dark family secrets--makes me often wonder what mine are hiding. Looking forward to reading more from this newfound British author!