Review: The Comfort of Lies; Randy Susan Meyers

A family drama that needs more depth (3.5 stars)

Source- review copy

Published by Atria Books- due for publication in February 2013

Kindle review edition; the hardcover edition is 336 pages.

My expectations were set pretty high for this complex-sounding family drama and it has already received some decent reviews, but in all honesty I was left feeling quite indifferent by the time I’d finished it. It was OK, but just OK. That statement sounds like a bit of a cop-out but it’s the truth. It’s also rare that I read a book and can’t find at least one redeeming feature about any of its characters, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.

This novel explores the lives of three women which become forever entwined following an infidelity. There’s Tia who has an affair with married man Nathan, Nathan’s wife Juliette who is slowly learning to cope with the repercussions of her husband’s affair until an unwelcome bombshell is dropped into her life and lastly Caroline, the mother of the child that Tia gives up for adoption. We gradually get to know all three characters and witness events through their individual perspectives during a five year narrative. This book offers no surprises, but is a well-told and engaging read that did hold my interest throughout, although truth be told I did find it a slightly depressing read after picking up so much chicklit recently- bit of a culture shock!

To be blunt, had this book offered at least some sort of twist or shock somewhere along the way, then my rating perhaps would have been higher. I have read novels along similar themes which offer more unpredictability and a variety of multi-layered characters that have not suffered from the stereotypes that the author has pigeon-holed them into here.

Case and point: we have the young mother who initially put her baby up for adoption and in the intervening years since uses alcohol as a crutch as her career goes down the pan, the wronged-for wife who becomes crazier and more blatantly obsessed with her husbands affair as the plot goes along- developing stalkerish tendencies, and finally the adoptive mother herself -a complete workaholic control-freak who questions her ability to be a parent at all (with good reason).  As I read about these three women and their mixed-up lives, my opinion kept changing and I continually questioned who (if any) of them would be best off caring for five-year-old Savannah, so in that respect the book did make me think about just what a mother needs to offer her child to be perceived as a ‘worthy’ parent. It genuinely poses some interesting questions about what it means to be a parent at all- whether biological or adoptive, and it did make me think about the intricacies of the adoption process and adoptive families generally. The author has clearly done a lot of research in this respect.

My opinions about all the inherently unlikeable characters aside and despite the excellent quality of the writing overall, this book regrettably falls under what I like to call ‘nicey-nicey’ syndrome at its dénouement; meaning that by the end everything is glossed over and all tied up with a neat little bow. With a dramatic novel like this I just wanted (and expected) more depth. How did Nathan’s other children react when they found out they had a secret sister, for example? That was something completely omitted from the final chapters and an aspect I would have liked to learn about, particularly as the prospect of that conversation was alluded to between Nathan and Juliette. The brief jump in time at the end of the book also annoyed me greatly as it felt that a lot of important content had merely been skipped over or pushed to one side entirely- it didn’t feel particularly realistic in that respect.

Meyers is a talented writer- there is no denying that. However, when I compare this book to those written by her peers within the genre, Diane Chamberlain, Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult for example, it doesn’t quite fall into the same league of addictively gripping reading. Perhaps I have just been well and truly spoiled by other amazing dramas that I have read in the past, but it is safe to say that this wasn’t exactly a life-affirming story for me and I doubt I would be in a massive hurry to read more from this author in future.

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