Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liar, writer. What's the difference?

I'm always getting to books after everyone else has discovered, analyzed and written about them. This time it's Liar by Justine Larbalestier. The one of the cover conflict fame (I couldn't resist using the before and after versions here, because the before is just so wrong).

If you don't know the premise of Liar, suffice it to say Micah is the ultimate unreliable narrator. She promises to tell the truth, but you're never certain whether or when she has. Even when you finish the book. It's a delicious mind-bending mystery.

You should read it if you haven't.

But one of the things that intrigued me was how Larbalestier plays with the very heart of being a writer. She lets Micah tell us the tricks of storytelling (or lying, if that's how you want to look at it) straight out. Early on in the book, I noticed what a wonderful job the author did with sensory detail that made scenes come alive. Then further on, Micah tells the reader that's how to make a story convincing -- not just good details, but how they're delivered. "Let them tease the information out of you. Lightly sprinkle it. One detail here, the smell of peanuts roasting; one there, the crunch of gray snow underfoot."

And again when Micah admits to (or seems to admit to!) having made up a character in the book. "I wanted to see if I could do it: invent a person. Make them believable. Real. Whole." I was struck with how that's what we do as writers of fiction. Micah's core question is the one we are always asking our readers: Do you believe me?

It's odd that two almost completely opposite books like Liar and Maggie's Monkeys could both strike me as being the stories of writers at work. (My observations about Maggie are explained a little bit here.) But I guess we're all always writing about ourselves in one way or another.