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ONCE UPON A LIE
by Maggie Barbieri
Minotaur Books, December 2013
304 pages
$24.99
ISBN: 1250011671


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Maeve Conlon's life is a miserable shambles. She is divorced and stuck with dealing with her ex and his annoying new wife (not to mention the existence of his adorable new son) in order to keep some kind of consistent order in the lives of her two teenage daughters, Rebecca and Heather. Rebecca is no problem, simply pouring out her entire life in studying non-stop so that she can get into Vassar next year. Heather, however, is younger and defiantly rebellious a liar, a sneak, a dabbler in drugs and alcohol the usual package. The ex is pretty dim when it comes to parenting so he drives Maeve nuts with frustration. To put the icing on the cake, Maeve owns a nice bakery which is beginning to do well but she is constantly concerned for her father, Jack, who is far enough advanced in early Alzheimer's that she has ensconced him in a facility that is supposed to keep track of him. Instead, he wanders off at will and the home may kick him out.

Suddenly, Maeve's cousin Sean Donovan is murdered in unsavory circumstances and although Maeve herself has plenty of reasons for wishing him dead she keeps them well-hidden. Jack, however, is defenseless against the grinding process of the murder investigation and clearly unable to supply himself with any kind of alibi for the time of the murder.

Quite reasonably, Maeve focuses her already overwhelmed energies on protecting Jack.

From then on, there is nothing much reasonable about this novel and the shame of it is that the problems lie in the author's failure to think things through. The flavor is of a text written hurriedly and never reconsidered on moral, logical, or psychological terms.

Because this is a thriller, I will not defend that statement lest I wreck the suspense. There are examples abounding of the carelessness of the writing without dealing with the thrust of the plot.

To flesh out the relationship Maeve has with Rebecca, Maggie Barbieri has chosen to have the girl be a competitive high school soccer player so that Maeve can attend the matches. Sadly, Barbieri has never been to a soccer game and opens with the girls returning to the field after a time out, still in the first quarter. My daughters played soccer. There are no times out and definitely no quarters in soccer. Unfortunately, Maeve gets to attend more than one soccer game because it makes a nice backdrop in which to have her run into her ex.

At one point in a quandary about Heather's behavior, Maeve searches her room and finds three fat joints in a bag buried in a dresser drawer. She takes them. Soon after, she is with her somewhat avant-garde shop assistant who has suffered a head injury and she gives the joints to her. But three pages after that she pulls out the joints and shows them to Cal, her ex. I thought I'd misread, but forty some pages beyond this point the shop assistant offers to smoke the two remaining joints which she still has and hasn't smoked yet herself.

Two thirds of the way through, Barbieri has Maeve thinking that "Cal...was always late, always bogged down with the menial tasks that every woman in town did with grace and ease but which seemed to present obstacles that were almost insurmountable now that he had an infant again." But we've been reading and paying attention and seen Cal over and over with his infant son strapped to his front and he's doing pretty darned well. What he is is tired just like every other person who cares for an infant.

Later, as Maeve moves into deeper, less justified activities, she pulls into a parking lot out by the dam on a Saturday, thinking that Saturday is the only day she and the creep she's spying on both have free. Two pages later she is keeping an eye on the creep's minivan and it's Wednesday.

The bottom line is that the writing is sloppily done and the reader realizes bit by bit that so is the thinking that generates this very sad story.

Apparently, this novel is Barbieri's venture into daring new territory as an author. It just doesn't work.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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