The Liar's Diary (Paperback)
Plume, 9780452289154, 320pp.
Publication Date: January 29, 2008
A seductive psychological thriller about a woman facing the dark truths at the heart of her family
Jeanne Cross’s contented suburban life gets a jolt of energy from the arrival of Ali Mather, the stunning new music teacher at the local high school. With a magnetic personality and looks to match, Ali draws attention from all quarters, including Jeanne’s husband and son. Nonetheless, Jeanne and Ali develop a deep friendship based on their mutual vulnerabilities and long-held secrets that Ali has been recording in her diary. The diary also holds a key to something darker: Ali’s suspicion that someone has been entering her house when she is not at home. Soon their friendship will be shattered by violenceand Jeanne will find herself facing impossible choices in order to protect the people she loves.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
In the first few chapters of the novel, it’s evident that the dynamic between husband and wife and father and son in the Cross household is, at best, strained and illusory. In hindsight, what clues were we given to the truth about Gavin and Jamie, and Gavin and Jeanne, in the beginning of the novel? What did you think when you first read that Jamie flinched when looking at his father? Or that Jeanne gave her son snacks on the sly and lied about his progress in school to her husband?
When Jeanne and Ali—outwardly, two very different women—begin riding to school together, how did you imagine their friendship would develop? Was their friendship genuine?
Discuss Jeanne and Ali as archetypes of suburban women. How do they fulfill their roles, and in what ways do they subvert them? Likewise, how do characters like Jack Butterfield and Gavin embody certain stereotypes, and also remain round, dynamic characters?
Ali and George Mather have an open yet loving marriage throughout the novel, although their separate residences and open sexual relationship is determined entirely by Ali’s desire, and not her husband’s. Discuss the nature of their relationship, and its quality as compared to Jeanne and Gavin’s, or Beth and Brian Shagaury’s. Is their relationship a relationship worth having, even if it includes Ali’s infidelity?
Discuss the ways in which the author deals with the subject of obsession in this novel: Brian Shagaury and Jamie are obsessed with Ali; Gavin is obsessively neat and orderly, and, as we discover later in the book, obsessed with young men; Jeanne is obsessed with maintaining a pristine reputation. What is Patry Francis telling us about the nature of obsession?
Consider the role that music and sound plays in the lives of these characters. For instance: Ali plays classical violin. Jeanne grew up listening to classical music but now listens to love songs on the radio. Jamie listens to angry, violent rock music. Gavin is almost always accompanied by silence. How does each character’s relationship to music or sound convey something significant about his or her personality and/or state of mind? (How does it act as a symbol?)
Jeanne’s parents never recovered from her brother’s death, and the tragedy had a significant impact on the person Jeanne would become: fearful, quiet, hesitant. Likewise, the abuse in Ali’s early childhood and her father’s suicide shaped the person she became—in her own words, one of the people who need “the unpredictable, the untrustworthy, the dangerous in their lives,” Are there any signs that Jamie will avoid the same patterns of behavior as his mother or Ali? Are there any indications in the novel—particularly the end—that Jamie might be able to rise above the tragedy that took place in his adolescence?
Many of the characters in this book self-medicate, whether that medication comes in the form of alcohol, pills, food, or sex. What kind of message do you believe Francis is sending us regarding our capacity to feel and process tragedy in our lives? What is she saying about our ability to heal in a world filled with deceit, death, and indecency?
Early in the book it’s made clear that Jamie has a problem with Ali Mather, when he desecrates her music for the concert at the Cape. And later, when Jeanne finds his box of souvenirs—items he stole from Ali’s house—it becomes clear that he’d lied to his mother about his behavior. Also, it suggests that he might do something to Ali Mather later in the novel. When Ali dies, did you believe that Jamie was her murderer? Did it seem to you, as it did to Gavin, that there was too much evidence against him?
How surprised were you by the book’s conclusion? Did the resolution of the book satisfy you? Did it feel feasible, and true?
Similarly, how difficult was it to reconcile what you thought you knew about Jeanne with the information you learned in the last chapter and the epilogue? Did the new knowledge about Ali’s death—her concern about Jamie and Marcus, her insistence on telling the police—make her a more sympathetic character?
Jeanne is the master of self-deception, refusing to see the truth about the people who surround her (Jamie, Gavin, Ali) until the very end. Does this make her an unreliable narrator? How does she redeem herself to her readers? (Or does she?)