Liar, by Rob Roberge*

liarApologies, dear reader; I hate having to pan a book. I only request galleys that I believe will be either good or great, but when I inadvertently find myself with a terrible book, I have to call it as I see it. I have another review about ready to post that will occupy this space soon.

I received this DRC free of charge from Crown Books and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. To be honest, it is the second-worst galley I have ever read. (The very worst lacked punctuation and was unreadable.) I wondered how a book like this wound up with such a reputable publisher; an internet search tells me that he has written other books that were well received. But I can’t find any redeeming value here. I actually came out of it feeling as if I’d been played, and I read it free.

This memoir is billed as a testament of sorts to the writer’s mental illness. I have a relative who struggles with bipolar disorder, and I like the idea of educating the public and of advocating for greater support and funding for those struggling with mental illness and also addiction issues, which are another key part of this book (If it can be said to have parts at all). The two often go hand-in-hand, the mentally ill using alcohol and/or street drugs to self-medicate. So I was on board when I began reading. But soon, I found excuses to read other DRC’s instead. Today, I made myself finish this thing so I could write the review and move on.

Liar isn’t even really a memoir. Let’s start with the title; some of what is in the book is true, some of it is invented, and we don’t get to know which is which. As if that weren’t bad enough, random dark matters (the death of the last passenger pigeon is one) are dropped into the text in no particular order. In fact, the text itself is not linear. This is clearly intentional, with things that happened (or didn’t happen) from 1977 dropped in between what happened (or not) in 1995, or 1982, etc. to let us see how confused is the mind of the mentally ill individual. The whole book is a mishmash of horrors that may or may not have transpired, just as the stricken person’s mind may not always be able to discern the real from the imagined. But for that, we hardly need a whole book; one short chapter would do the trick. I wanted to believe it would prove to be an artistic and if hard to read, avante garde approach to bipolar disorder; by the end, my head hurt and I was pissed.

How can anyone charge money for this?

Part of the reason I wanted to read Roberge’s galley is because it is billed as “blackly comic and brutally frank”, but it isn’t comic, and it isn’t frank. I found two (very, very darkly) humorous moments roughly between the 15% and 20% mark and thought maybe this was where the story would get rolling. Not so much. Nothing else—and I mean nothing else—was amusing. If it had been billed more accurately as merely dark and brutal, I would not have gone anywhere near it, nor do I recommend it to you. If it were at least entirely truthful, however disorienting and disjointed its telling, I could say it shines a light on the mental health crisis in the U.S., but since some of it is just tossed in for the hell of it and didn’t occur, I can’t even, in good conscience, recommend it to those researching bipolar disorder. How could a researcher cite this book in an academic publication?

The only positive thing I can say about this shipwreck of a book, apart from its accurate punctuation, is that no matter how bad your own life looks right now, it probably looks better than this.