Sometimes I Lie
Alice Feeney
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Buy *Sometimes I Lie* by Alice Feeneyonline

Sometimes I Lie
Alice Feeney
Flatiron Books
272 pages
March 2018
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Some people are ghosts before they are dead.
Feeney's evocative slow-burn mystery builds off a catalyst taking place over Christmas and New Year's Eve 2016. Sometimes I Lie forces 35-year-old Amber Reynolds to revisit a dark incident in her past and a present life that becomes anchored in her marriage to her novelist husband, Paul. Amber's marital dysfunction is only part of the issue as she spends busy days working as an executive assistant for Coffee Morning, a popular radio show led by a woman called Madeline who also happens to the face of Crisis Child, a group devoted to the well-being of abandoned children. It's been six months since Amber joined the team, although recently things have not going according to plan: "I can play all the parts of my life. I've been rehearsing for a very long time."

Amber proves to be an unsuspecting victim of time and circumstance. A harried, unfocused woman who gravitates between sleep and wakefulness, Amber is soon in free fall. Panic spreads through her "like a blast of icy cold air." She awakens in a hospital, unable to speak or move. Gagging from the sterilized stench around her, Amber struggles to unearth what actually happened to her. On the outside, she's a "nobody without a name." On the inside, she recalls that she had the face of someone who might have once been pretty.

There has been a spate of novels about coma patients (Emily Elgar's recent If You Knew HerM\, for example), but what makes Feeney's approach unique is how she immerses us in Amber's frustrations as she tries to piece together the delicate fragments of her past. Her spotty memories are hazy and disjointed, as though she's reaching out and trying to grab something only to have it slip between her fingers. Images come in fits and starts: how Paul's first novel took over their marriage; how everything was going well until Amber's confession to her work-friend, Jo, that she should have tried harder with Madelaine; and that she should have stuck to the plan because she "can't lose this job, not just yet."

Concerned Claire and anxious but irritating Paul are at Amber's side, appearing like "two dark shadows" looming over her. She was found a few miles from the house and would have been traveling at some speed. Upon impact, she sustained a serious blow to the head. As Claire's cold fingers wrap themselves around Amber's, a series of diary entries take us back to the early 1990s and a ten-year-old girl living with her drunk mother in a house once owned by her deceased grandmother. Amid her shouting father and her crying mother, she tells us about her best friend who lives in a gorgeous home and has a loving mother: "They never knew her the way I did, they didn't see what I saw."

Amber keeps hearing Paul's voice in her head. He's arguing with Claire. Things keep slipping from Amber's grasp. She struggles to stay on the surface as water seems to swirl around and inside her, swallowing her back down into darkness. She sees the crashed car and the damaged tree. As silent rage spreads "like a virus" inside her mind, the voice comes to Amber loud, clear, and commanding: "I need to get out of bed. I have to wake up." Feeney builds her narrative in a series of twists that reflect Amber's memories: Claire and David's IVF, Paul's desire for children; and Amber's reconnection her old boyfriend, Edward Clarke. While Amber sees a quick drink with an old friend--and perhaps even polite conversation over warm prosecco--Edward sees something much darker.

The pieces of Feeney's puzzle slowly start to show themselves. Was it Paul who hurt Amber? Claire? Edward Clarke? The truth is more tangled and twisted than Amber first thought. Lies crawl and linger, smearing the walls of Amber's mind with much-stained memories so she can't see what's before or behind her. Amber knows things about Madeline, things that she shouldn't. There is something malicious about the way Amber is deliberately dragged into a situation where she's a little girl once again, holding her innocence tightly around her. As Amber's vision gradually falls away, she looks down at the girl she used to be.

Feeney's low-key narrative is perfectly suited to the finale, where lies can seem true when told often enough. Like the calm before a storm, Amber swings from marital mistrust to sweet revenge against Madelaine. Though the final twist seems a bit hard-won, the revelation swings the novel free, cutting right to the core of the three different narrative strands and eventually altering our perception of Amber. Though Amber's spiraling internal dramas get a bit tedious at times, the real question of which character is responsible is enough to keep the pages turning.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2018

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