Love and Other Lies
Ben McPherson
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Buy *Love and Other Lies* by Ben McPherson online

Love and Other Lies
Ben McPherson
William Morrow Paperbacks
464 pages
February 2021
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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"Imagine a girl."
This haunting novel begins with the image of an innocent young girl enjoying her solitude at the water's edge of Garden Island, a fjord near Oslo, Norway. Ready to rejoin her summer camp friends in a planned activity, Alicia notices two men docking a small boat at the water's edge. She is confused, wondering why the strangers have come to the island.

On the deck of a rented condo, Licia's parents share a drink while baby Frederick sleeps soundly in his room. It is Midsummer's Eve, their wedding anniversary. Elsa and Cal Curtis have a solid marriage, with three beautiful children, Licia: the eldest; Viktoria, one year younger; and their new baby boy. Trust is important to this couple, truth a cornerstone of their relationship. Then Elsa's father comes to the door, calling out that there has been a shooting at Garden Island, the summer camp Alicia is attending.

"Imagine a girl." A crowd gathers across from the island, worried parents awaiting word, desperate for information as the children are transported from the nightmarish scene--some alive, albeit unnaturally quiet. Others, covered bodies, are rolled into a tent, a somber procession to be identified by parents. Frantic, Elsa and Cal cannot find their child among the living or the dead. The strangers that came to the island, the ones Licia noticed, were killers who shot their victims, one by one, two shots each, until they ran out of ammunition. Then they sat, smoking, waiting for the police to arrest them. One girl, one missing child, cannot be found anywhere.

It is upon this framework that McPherson constructs his brilliant and haunting novel, a family in the path of chaos in a world grown used to shock and outrage. Their condo grows noticeably quieter without two adolescent girls laughing and bickering. Viktoria is either absorbed in a computer games or relentlessly searching for clues that might lead to Licia. Elsa and Cal find their usual closeness elusive, conversation difficult. Grief is often a solitary thing.

The lost girl's parents are essentially alone in their musings. The once-joyful Viktoria has grown quiet under the burden of loss, filled with rage and a refusal to believe her sister is gone forever. Other characters contribute to the evolution of this family in crisis, people on the outside, but the essence of the drama is the family, the heart. It is where McPherson plants the seeds of doubt and disbelief, curating the series of events, each new piece of information a precious addition, a new direction on the long, winding road to revelation.

The family is suspended for over a year. There is a public trial, the murderers on a stage before a judge, the grieving families arranged in rows, each cold-blooded murder retold, the monsters relishing each tableau. Day after day. It is unbearable.

Love and Other Lies is the shattering tale of a daughter lost to her parents, her sister and baby brother, the essence of family, a suffering father and broken mother. Hope is elusive, acceptance unbearable. A marriage seems suddenly fragile, moral certainty slipping away. Each has secrets that cannot be shared. Only little Franklin breaks the silence with his laughter, joyful and unexpected.

"Imagine a girl." From the first page, an idyllic setting shattered by the sound of gunfire and the screams of children, McPherson writes a shocking, compelling mystery experienced from the inside of a family thrust into contemporary violence that reshapes the future. The weight of a terrible truth demands more than soul-searing facts or understanding. There may be forgiveness at the end of a twisted path, though hard-won. Astonishing.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2020

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