We Were Liars is Literary Crème Brulée

16143347Remember that RomCom with Julia Roberts where she plays a food critic? (That is honestly all I can remember of it…) Oh! But I have the power of the Google! Ok, the movie was called My Best Friend’s Wedding and thank you wiki quotes for providing the exact dialogue:

Julianne: … Okay, you’re Michael, you’re in a fancy french restaurant, you order… creme brulee for dessert, it’s beautiful, it’s sweet, it’s irritatingly perfect. Suddenly, Michael realises he doesn’t want creme brulee, he wants something else.

Kimmy: What does he want?

Julianne: Jello.

Kimmy: Jello?! Why does he want jello?

Julianne: Because he’s comfortable with jello, jello makes him… comfortable. I realise, compared to creme brulee it’s… jello, but maybe that’s what he needs.

As a reader, the whole Jello thing resonated with me: sometimes I feel like reading vampire love stories, or pat supernatural thrillers: aka jello. Sometimes I feel like having my mind blown with exquisite writing and thought-provoking characters; you know – the kind of book that takes you weeks to get over.

After reading a lot of jello lately (summer is good for reading jello.) I picked up a YA title that turned out to be a whack load of fancy pants crème brulée (in the most exquisite, desirable sense.)

Now, like adult fiction, the ratio of jello:creme brulée is about 1000:1, so when a book like this crosses your path, you have to cry out in ecstasy à la Meg Ryan in How Harry met Sally for all the world to hear (look at me with all these old romantic comedy references…)

Lockhart’s new book, We Were Liars, is unlike anything other YA book I have ever read. The story is simple (but not really. If someone tells you something is simple, they’re either trying to sell you something or make you feel stupid).

Here are the first few lines:

Welcome to the Beautiful Sinclair Family.

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

The Sinclairs are athletic, tall and handsome. We are old-money democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.

But look a little under the surface and everything is not how it is supposed to be. They are a family that does not talk about anything, that keeps their secrets close to its chest and then drown them in gourmet meals and Chardonnay.

The story is told from the point of view of Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a 17-year old who suffers from extreme pain and memory loss from a mysterious accident. Problem is, the doctors can’t figure out what is wrong with her.  She is the only daughter of one of the daughters of Self-Made Man. She spends every summer on the family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts. That is when the Liars, as Cady and her cousins like to call themselves, get to see each other. But Cady hasn’t been back since her accident two years ago. She can’t remember what happened and, typical of her close-lipped family, nobody will tell her.

Thus begins an intense literary experience channeled through the damaged, broken, funny, heart-breaking voice of Cadence.

Lockhart is a master tension builder, doling out pieces of information in tiny little increments. It starts with what seems to be simply a disaffected teen girl , builds slowly into creepy and by the time your whole body is filled with goosebumps, she delivers the final blow (I don’t want to use any adjectives for fear of giving anything away).

I could not put this book down. Even when I did, I didn’t. It was always in my head, sticking to my consciousness like a particularly stubborn burr. It got so that I resented the fact that I had to work/eat/ talk to my kids as it got in the way of finishing this book.

Oh, and I can’t just talk about metaphor or imagery when talking about Lockhart’s writing of Cady; I can only describe her use of METAPHOR and IMAGERY.

She hits you with Cady’s particular use of both from the start. Here is how Lockhart describes the day Cady’s father left her and her mother for another woman:

            He had hired moving vans already. He’d rented a house, too. My father put a last suitcase into the backseat of the Mercedes (he was leaving Mummy with only the Saab), and started the engine.

Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,

then from my eyes,

my ears,

my mouth.

It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.

Mummy snapped. She said to get a hold of myself.

Be normal, now she said. Right now she said.

Okay, if that passage doesn’t make you want to pick up this book RIGHT NOW you clearly are simply in the mood for jello. If that is the case, fine. I suggest you store this title away for a moment where you are in the mood for a word-savouring, emotionally gruelling, crème brulée.

2 thoughts on “We Were Liars is Literary Crème Brulée

  1. Finished this yesterday after picking it up on your recommendation. Emotional evisceration, holy shit. Thanks for writing about it.

    1. As the Quebecois say, Mets- en! By the way, I met E. Lockhart recently at the Jewish Public Library’s Girls Night Out event. I am embarrassed to admit I cut in front of a bunch of middle school kids and then proceeded to gush like a 60s teenie bopper meeting the Beatles. Not one of my finest moments….

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