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Rereading Jenny: Tell Me Lies

January 23, 2014

[Spotlight posts, spoilers, you know the drill.]

Tell Me Lies is the first Jennifer Crusie book I ever read.  It was also the first Jennifer Crusie book that came out as a non-“series” book–that is, by a company whose job is to put out X amount (usually 4) of formulaic romance books per line per month.  Of course I remember the cover completely wrong.  It supposedly looks like this:


I could’ve sworn it was three candies across the top: TELL, ME, and LIES.

Candy hearts, okay.  So…chick lit.  And in fact people will say, and I have said in the past, that this is where she moved from formula to chick lit.  However, upon rereading this book for the first time in aaaages, I’m less inclined to want to put that light, breezy genre name to it.

The cover obviously does, and the reviews all contain words like “light” and “breezy.”

Look, guys, I don’t know about your world, but in mine, abused spouses and grieving children are NOT “light” and “breezy.”  The darkness of this book, and the one that follows it, does not spell “chick lit” to me.  Nor are they romances.  But I suppose they’re closer to the former than the latter.

Crusie calls this “the book of her heart.”  It’s the one I call “the one I ignored for years because of the stupidity of the main character.”

It’s true: there are times I want to shake the main character (lightly, out of consideration) and ask her what the hell she thinks she’s doing.  Maddie Faraday is your typical Crusie doormat, although this time with a cute kid, Emily.  Her husband is, of course, a cheating jerk, and the book begins with her finding black crotchless panties in her car.

I read, by the way, the British version of the book, a present from a friend (hi Goose!), and the cover stupidly looks like this…


(Again, so damn CUTESY, but at least the dog looks sad that Maddie’s husband knocks her around.)

…and I’m pretty sure some of the text has been changed, because they say “pants” instead of “panties,” “underpants,” or “underwear.”  But I’m thinking that that’s pretty much the only content difference.

Maddie has never lived in a world where black crotchless panties exist.  She lives in Frog Point, Ohio, a town that lives to be named over and over until you’re utterly sick of its twee-ness, which is a town where every woman is so damn bored all she does is gossip.  Maddie’s been a good girl all her life, in part because her mother controls her with guilt.  Her grandmother was such a beacon for embarrassment that Maddie and her mom live in perpetual fear of doing anything to churn that gossip mill, only Maddie doesn’t even realize it.

Her one mistake, back in high school, was to lose her virginity to town fuck-up CL, now a divorced Daytonian accountant who conveniently comes home to investigate her husband.  Fortunately, no one found out.

Actually, it’s not convenient, not for everyone and not for the plot, but we figure that as we go along.

It is, sort of, a mystery: What the fuck is going on here?  Maddie becomes increasingly aware of her husband’s poor decisions, her best friend’s utter misery, and every secret the town’s been holding in for decades, and it makes her angry.  Angry to be treated poorly.  Angry that she was so bored.  Angry that she never really developed much of a personality.  Angry that the whole town runs on telling everyone’s business, which is why secrets are kept so close and gain so much power.

That power is currency, and people blackmail left and right because they can, because the truth is so powerful.

Maddie, as I said, is kind of stupid, but in defense, she spends a large portion of the beginning of the book battered first by a car accident, and then her husband.  The scene where he smacks her around made my chest hurt; “light,” my pants.  I wonder if this book does a disservice to Maddie by saying she doesn’t have a concussion; she certainly acts like she does.

People who have been less insulated than Maddie, who’ve been through the gossip mill and lived to tell about it–and be branded by that one or series of things (Maddie’s best friend says if she cures cancer, among the town she’ll be known as the one who had the baby in high school, who cured cancer)–have a hugely different view of the town than she does, and when the rumors are finally flying with Maddie in the middle, she is even more terrified because she hasn’t had to cope with it like everyone else.

But still, dude, some of the things she does are utterly mad, which is why this is my least-often reread Crusie.  I think I’ve even read Sizzle more times.  Well, maybe not.

When describing to a friend the difference between chick lit and romance, I tend to boil it down to something like this: in romance, the relationship is the most important thing; in chick lit, the woman’s journey is.  In chick lit, therefore, sometimes the girl doesn’t get the guy, but the IMPORTANT thing is that at the end, she’s “worthy” of a guy.  Which is not to say that women have to work their way up to men.  It’s more like, you have to get your shit unpacked before you can enter into something healthy.  In this way, chick lit is great, when it bothers to do that.

CL is the perfect example of the chick lit guy; he doesn’t really drive the book.  He’s a character in his own right, and a good one (but ewww, smoking–I feel like this is the only book where there’s smoking), but Maddie wants him in her bed but not necessarily in her “real” life, the one that has her kid.  She ignores him through a huge chunk of the book, and it makes her sad, but not because she’s pining for some man; it’s because she’s really pining for her perceived inability to go for what she wants.  It just takes her a while to figure it out.  Because CL is her choice, rather than her path, to happiness, his name is even more fitting.  (What? I can’t spoil everything.)

As Maddie slowly unravels what’s going on around her, making dumbass mistakes, her daughter lives in a world of uncertainty and confusion, built on–you guessed it–lies.  Well, half-truths, avoided questions, and lies.  Maddie has passed this on to her daughter, and her daughter rebels even before Maddie rebels, and I love Em so it hurts to watch her go through everything, from the fear of divorce to the joy of getting a puppy to the confusion over what happens to her father, and the confusion of this guy showing up in her mother’s life out of nowhere.

What I love is how truth and lies are EVERYTHING in this book, even though a person might think it’s gossip.  It’s not.  Gossip is just how the truth and lies travel.

OH RIGHT and there’s this one thing that made my stomach hurt worse than just the nausea (oh, by the way, I have an ear infection, which may or may not have caused the dizzies but is definitely not helping my life any) and I thought I might have a panic attack reading it.


The usual Crusie: sex in places you can be caught, hilarious dialog, quirky characters in a quirky world, great bff (LOVE how Maddie deals with a problem in her friendship–that is, brokenheartedly), a great little dog, a real sense of community.

There’s probably so much more than can be said, but between the sick, the meds, and the God-how-much-have-I-spoiled-already, I think I’m done here.

Next up: one of my favorites, Crazy for You, which is horrifying and amazing and basically CAN give me panic attacks now.


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