Saturday, April 12, 2008

The New Yorker: "The Lie" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

I love a story about a liar, and Lonnie is a big one. He and his wife Clover wake up after a night of drinking with friends and Lonnie just can’t bear the thought of going into work at his minor production-company job. He has no sick days or personal days left, so after he drops baby Xana off at the sitter (Lonnie and Clover are on the edge of counterculture, although Clover is studying to be a lawyer and thinks she might change her name to Cloris in order to gain some sort of respectability), he calls his boss and says it’s the baby who’s sick. Lonnie then enjoys his day off, cooks a nice meal for Clover, and feels good about himself. But the next day comes and he dreads work again, so the lie gets ratcheted up. There are complications, at work, in a bar, at home. This is all good stuff and the reader wonders how Lonnie is going to get out of the mess he’s made for himself. Coming clean is really the only way, but there is a sense that he’s let it go too far for that. And then there is a final scene, that should be the big climax, and . . . fzzzt. We end with a whimper instead of a bang. A very enjoyable story is spoiled by a wimpy ending.

After Boyle’s last story appeared in The New Yorker—I liked it less than I liked this one—I got some grief from Boyle fans. I’ll be curious to see what they think of this one.

April 14, 2008: “The Lie” by T. C. Boyle

3 comments:

Heather said...

I dunno...I thought the ending on this one was about right. It was a really enjoyable story.

Xujun Eberlein said...

I really enjoyed this story, and I thought the ending (especially the last line) was great, very realistically human. I don't regard myself as a Boyle fan per se, but I'd say this one is the best of the New Yorker stories so far this year.

Paul Epstein said...

Without making a value judgment, I think it's interesting to note that this ending is very untypical for a Boyle story. His endings normally contain dramatically improbable twists: a boyfriend comes to support his girlfriend during an athletic event, has a plan to disturb his girlfriend's rival but then, for the bizarre twist, he instead decides to obstruct his own girlfriend; parents go to a hospital to identify their dead daughter but, because this is Boyle-world, it's not their dead daughter at all but the daughter of a friend who just happens to be carrying the wrong ID card...
I said that I was going to suspend any value judgment but I'm not. For me, it's an extremely welcome departure for Boyle to abandon his propensity for horrendously corny twist-endings and instead plump for the most realistic outcome.