Lelic's The Liar's Room is a story with pull, cleverly building a claustrophobic evil which is thoroughly entangled with the assumptions of the way therapist Suzanna's Fenton's life's is depicted. As the character of Adam Geraghty soaks up his family's tales of dysfunction, he's angry at the secrets that Suzanna has until now kept to herself. Adam's knowledge of Suzanna's secrets and her practical skills become clouded in a fog of anger. Adam wants Suzanna to bare it all, but what he is given turns out to be a lot less desirable.
Adam, the first of two new clients scheduled for that afternoon, is set to enter Suzanna's office. The room itself is relatively bare, Suzanna's desk haloed by the Georgian windows. Suzanna is initially seduced by Adam's milky teeth and goofy smile, both innocent and familiar. Right away, she has a feeling she knows him, but this soon fades like déjà vu. Adam is obviously embarrassed about whatever it is that's troubling him. "I don't know if I can stop myself," he tells Suzanna, who thinks he's more troubled than she'd initially assumed. Suzanna is right to be wary of him. Instinct, however, is fleeting. Hiding behind an expert façade, she knows that whatever it is about Adam that has been niggling at her is linked to her own past: "it's her problem, her baggage."
Suzanna is plagued by her own demons: the detritus of her crumbling marriage to Neil, her inability to save her teenage son,, Jake, and also the actions of her daughter, Emily, who for the past several years has been raising herself. The real question is Susanna's vow of honesty. When overwhelmed by Adam's series of revelations, Suzanna decides to go on the attack. When Adam shows her a photo of Emily, Susanna is furious at herself for having been duped and at Adam for having duped her. The background of the photo is industrial--breezeblock wall and a concrete floor, nowhere near where her daughter would ordinarily be.
Though clearly traumatized, Adam remains sly and manipulative, suggesting he might be willing to trade information with Suzanna in order to subtly get to the reason why she ran and what she did to her son. Adam lies to her, always pushing. She instinctively feels an urge to push back, especially with Emily's life at stake. The third voice is naïve Emily, trapped in the room where the voice and the memories come raging back. Everything slips into the void and is just Adam and the charge he has laid before Suzanna. She's forced to admit that she's never stopped loving Jake. She's still capable of standing up for her children, protecting them at whatever cost. As Adam's knife appears before her, she begs him to tell her what has happened to Emily.
Far more than a "kidnap thriller," the novel is more about where we come from--our secret pasts and how we can't escape them, that they define us, that they control us and can even trap us. But there's no pretending anymore. No more secrets, no more lies. All these years working as a counselor, Susanna should have understood: no matter how hard you try to bury it, "the past has a way of catching up." Whatever game Adam is playing, it's been rigged from the start. He's going to judge Suzanna, and she's going to watch as she finally judges herself, Jake, and his best friends Scott, Peter and Charles.
This dynamic between Adam and Suzanna is an intriguing setup for Lelic's modern morality play, but the shadowy link between them lends the action a slightly queasy element that's sometimes hard to stomach. Lelic is still a terrific writer, firmly entrenching Suzanna in bitter defiance against anybody twho might seek to dim the memory of Jake, a boy in stasis, "a beautiful lost broken boy" who threw away his chance of ever growing up. Adam is equally engaging, going beyond his shiftiness to portray a quasi-sympathetic figure who at first seems innocent. He proves to be the real threat as he tunnels further and further into Suzanna's murky psyche. Emily's whereabouts are metered out in subtleties as Suzanna attempts to make a pact with herself never to discuss her past, though she does admit to Adam that she ultimately failed Jake.
Skillfully manipulating a chilling mystery with a good storyline, Lelic's two main characters are believable and well-elaborated. The story rocks all the way to the end in a sudden earth-shattering climax. Suzanna must find her missing daughter, but not before her own life is placed in peril.