‘The Better Liar’ by Tanen Jones


How do we repress and distort our childhood memories? In “The Better Liar,” Tanen Jones explores how adult siblings remember their childhood times together. She also ventures into spooky territory, with the story told using three different first person narratives.

One is Leslie, the older sister. The other two are Robin, the younger sister she found dead in Las Vegas just after their father left them a joint inheritance — either they both are there together to accept it, or neither gets it; and Mary, someone she meets by chance who agrees to impersonate her sister so they can both get the money.

But as with all good mysteries, we get the sense from the start that all is not as it appears to be. Once Mary and Leslie travel to Leslie’s house, frustration kicks in when they can’t immediately get the inheritance. They can’t see the lawyer for a week. And Mary realizes that Leslie is hiding something, and Mary wants to know what it is. Why does Leslie need the inheritance so badly? From outward appearances, she has everything. Husband, lovely home, baby, job. But then why did she lie about losing her job? Why does Leslie’s husband hide secrets from her?

Mary is a puzzle, too, and Leslie watches her and doesn’t trust her. Mary disappears all day although she has no car, no friends, and nowhere to go. What is she doing?

And then we hear from Robin, whose body Leslie found at the beginning of the book, drug ravaged and skeletal. Robin tells us about their past, and it’s very revealing. The story raises some powerful questions. How far will someone, especially a child, go to please  and win approval from an older sibling? As secrets build on secrets — some of which are pretty horrifying —  readers will begin to suspect the truth, although even when Jones reveals part of the truth, there are still more twists to be unraveled.

First published on Bookreporter.com.

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