The Practice of Deceit
Elizabeth Benedict
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The Practice of Deceit

Elizabeth Benedict
Mariner Books
288 pages
May 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Click here to read Shannon Bigham's take on The Practice of Deceit.

The Practice of Deceit, a mesmerizing look at sex, lies, and infidelity, is a suspenseful tale seen through the eyes of an ordinary man. Eric Lavender is an intelligent, affable New York psychotherapist who has been around the block a few times. Now in his mid-forties, he has never been married; there have been plenty of girlfriends, but there's something about the freedom of bachelorhood that has kept Eric single and fancy-free.

Eric's calm, steady, and somewhat predictable life is suddenly interrupted when he gets a call that his father has died in Los Angeles. While in the city attending to the estate and tying up the loose ends for a father who he knew never really loved him, Eric meets the stunning and crafty Colleen. Colleen is a lawyer who specializes in obtaining divorces for women; she is divorced herself but has a baby daughter from a previous marriage.

Immediately attracted to her mixture of vulnerability and professional toughness, Eric begins to entertain the idea of finally having a family with her. While Colleen is busy running her law firm in Scarsdale, New York, Eric returns to Manhattan to his practice. When Colleen suddenly announces she is pregnant, he dives right in and decides to make a go of marriage and family life.

But everything is soon about to turn when Eric begins to question his wife's ethics involving Sandy Lefkowitz, a client whom they have in common. Colleen seems to be a woman of an enigmatic past, and as Eric looks closer, he begins to see that all is not right with his wife. There are secrets she has been hiding and lies she has been telling; even Pru, his loyal sister, and Bea, her long-term partner, think that Colleen seems "unknowable."

Suddenly, the carefully woven life that Eric has assembled falls away, and he is forced to account for a history of naivety. Colleen is revealed as almost sociopathic, a man-hater whose real life with all its scratches and dents was underway: "like the rest of us at forty or forty-five, she was something of a used book: intact but a bit battered around the edges." Falling deep into a swamp of ambiguities and clouded obligations, Eric's life becomes a nightmare as Colleen is intent on protecting her shady past, a past defined by poverty and lies.

Deeply embarrassed and distraught, with his life closing in on him, Eric has come to the moment of truth; whether he can stay in a marriage that is not based on "in sickness and in health, but in truth and in treachery." Eric must turn from a strong man banging a drum in the woods, the frightened, feminized commitment-phobe he sees every day in the mirror, to battling a woman whose favorite way to communicate in both her professional and personal life is in the courtroom.

Author Elizabeth Benedict has a firm grasp of her characters, their flaws, and their fears. In this heightened novel, all are forced to confront their pretensions, insecurities and motivations. Colleen's existence is defined by lies, denial and deceit as she steadily uses her feminine and professional wiles to dominate Eric, while Eric, the "confirmed bachelor," is fooled into a marriage that is not as it first seemed. He is a man who thinks about his concessions and sacrifices, and that his grudging submission to contentment has somehow rendered him immune to the pitfalls of those he treats makes his surprise at having it all turned on him that much more convincing.

The Practice of Deceit is an absolutely scathing portrait of unhappy, scared, and lonely people stuck in their expensive houses, and in their loveless marriages. They are devoted to their kids but desperate for a grown-up's kiss, a grown-up's body to hold in the night. The serpentine plot and the machiavellian conceit of Colleen, the novel's female protagonist, ensure that the story remains a profoundly realistic excursion into the havoc a woman can wreak if holding the right amount of power.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2005

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