Lies You Wanted to Hear (Thomson)

Lies You Wanted to Hear 
James Whitfield Thomson, 2013
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781402284281

Alone in an empty house, Lucy tries to imagine the lives of her two young children. They have been gone for seven years, and she is tormented by the role she played in that heartbreaking loss. You can hardly see a glimpse of the sexy, edgy woman she used to be. Back then, she was a magnet for men like Matt, who loved her beyond reason, and Griffin, who wouldn't let go but always left her wanting more. Now the lies they told and the choices they made have come to haunt all three of them.

With shattering turns, Lies You Wanted to Hear explores the way good people talk themselves into doing terrible, unthinkable things. What happens when we come to believe our own lies? And what price must we pay for our mistakes?

A searing story that will leave you wondering what choices you would make, Lies You Wanted to Hear is a stunning debut. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1946
Where—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University; Ph.D., University
   of Pennsylvania
Currently—lives in Natick, Massachusetts

Even as a young high school football player who caught the eye of college coaches, James W. Thomson realized that football wasn't truly in his future. Instead, a scholarship enabled him to pursue academics at Harvard, where he discovered his love of literature and art history.

After a two-year tour of duty in Vietnam as a Naval ship navigator, Thomson returned to school and completed his Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Following a discouraging stint in academia, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and joined a start-up company. He stayed with the firm for 13 years as it grew to 300 employees with offices from Los Angeles to London.

Eventually, to fulfill a life-time dream of becoming a writer, Thomson joined a workshop led by Andre Dubus, Jr., who taught him to devote time every day to writing. Three novels, a memoir and a dozen short stories later, Thomson can now call himself a writer. His work has earned him a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and a number of his stories have appeared in literary quarterlies, with one winning a national short story contest.

Thomson lives with his wife Elizabeth in a Victorian fam house west of Boston. They have five adult children. (Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reviews
Quite an achievement ... confident and eminently readable
New York Journal of Books

A spellbinding stunner of a debut ... Lies You Wanted to Hear is a novel of intensely lifelike characters and chilling choices and consequences that is utterly satisfying from start to finish.
Redbook Magazine

A remarkable, readable novel that's sure to provoke animated debate
Portland Daily Sun

[A] divorced father... kidnaps his two young children from their mother, whom he perceives to be unfit to raise them.... Matt assigns them new identities and lies to his kids about their mother before they take up a fugitive lifestyle. As time passes, the reader’s sympathies align more with Lucy, who is left heartsick over the loss of her kids, in Thomson’s well-told narrative of complex characters and their troubled families.
Publishers Weekly

Matt...falls into paranoia, convincing himself that [his wife] Lucy is a danger to her children and that he must take drastic actions to save them.... Lucy and Matt share with the reader the truths they never told each other. Verdict: This first novel...slowly builds momentum, ending with a satisfying twist on the theme of why good love can go bad and what redemption can cost. —Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC
Library Journal

[An] effective debut.... Thomson lays out the moral complexities underlying acrimonious divorces, taking care to make each side credible.

First-time novelist Thomson explores the excruciating pain of a marriage gone wrong in this dreary tale stretched out over two decades.... Thomson writes in clear if pedestrian prose, shifting between Lucy and Matt, but unfortunately, the novel never transcends the dour particulars of its own he said, she said storytelling.... Relentlessly grim melodrama, in the vein of Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Lying is a key element of this novel. Who lies more, Matt or Lucy? What is the worst lie each of them tells? Do you think there is a difference between lying to someone and betraying them?

2. Was Matt justified in kidnapping his children? What do you think drove him over the edge? Does his essential character change once he has taken the kids?

3. Do you agree with Matt when he says that what he did was his “fate” and he had no other choice?

4. Lucy feels as if she can’t quite figure out how to be a good mother, yet she is unable to broach the subject even with her best friend, Jill. Do you think this a common feeling among women? Why do you think that a mother might find this topic difficult to talk about?

5. Is Lies You Wanted to Hear a tragedy? Why or why not?

6. Do the alternating first-person chapters from Matt and Lucy work in terms of storytelling? Do you think Matt’s voice is different from Lucy’s?

7. Lucy has a lot of failings both as a mother and a wife. What are the differences between how Matt sees her and how she sees herself? Is one character’s view more truthful or more insightful than the other?

8. After the confrontation in the bedroom with Lucy and Griffin, Matt says to Lucy, “I never had a chance, did I?” Did Lucy ever really try to make the marriage work? Does Matt bear responsibility for their breakup?

9. Why does Lucy keep going back to Griffin? Do you think Lucy belongs with Griffin? With Matt?

10. Did your feelings about Matt and Lucy shift during the novel? If yes, was there a particular moment that caused that shift?

11. Is it possible to compare one person’s grief to another’s? Do you think that most people measure and compare their losses to those of others?

12. Lucy’s lawyer suggests that it is inappropriate for Matt to take a shower with Sarah, who is almost five years old. Also, Matt often lets Sarah crawl into bed with him in the middle of the night. Is this cause for alarm? If this behavior is acceptable now, at what point should it change?

13. Why does Sara remain so fiercely loyal to her father when she learns the truth about her mother? What pulls Elliot in the opposite direction? Have you ever encountered a startling revelation in your own life or in that of someone you know that causes you to rethink your entire world?

14. Lucy quotes her mother as saying, “Any fool can be happy. The hard part is feeling like you matter.” What do you think about this statement?

15. How does Lucy’s journal-keeping influence her life?

16. How do Lucy’s relationships with other women define who she is and how we think about her?

17. Is there any validity in Matt’s contention that the court system is biased toward a mother? When adjudicating domestic disputes, does the legal system today give fair consideration to the rights of both parents?

18. Matt and Lucy were brought up in very different family situations. Did their upbringing lead them into making the choices they made?

19. The last thing Lucy says to Matt is, “I feel better now. I don’t have to hate you anymore.” But she doesn’t offer him forgiveness. Are there some acts that are simply unforgivable?

20. Did Lucy give up too quickly in trying to find her children? The children’s disappearance takes place before the age of the Internet. Would Lucy’s search be different today?

21. From the first date on, it is clear that Matt is more taken with Lucy than she is with him. Is itthe norm in most romantic relationships that one person falls more deeply in love than the other?

22. Can you think of times when you would rather have heard a lie than the truth? Are there lies you have told because you believed that was what someone wanted to hear?

23. After he takes the kids, Matt never forms a successful long-term relationship with a woman and doesn’t really seem to have any close male friends. Is this something that is an outgrowth of his need for secrecy, or is it more an outgrowth of his basic character? Would you say he is a man who understands himself and knows what he truly believes?

24. In the end, would you say Matt has been a good father or a bad one?

25. Did Lucy get what she deserved?

26. When talking about the difference between movies and films, Matt says, “Movies were entertainment, stories that made you laugh or cry and kept you on the edge of your seat. Films had meanings and subtitles, slow, tortuous stories with bleak endings or no ending at all.” He likes movies; Lucy likes films. Is this a common distinction between men and women? If Lies You Wanted to Hear were made into a motion picture, would it be a movie or a film?|

27. Years after her children have been gone, Lucy says, “People say, Don’t lose hope, miracles happen, as if hoping might have some bearing on the outcome. But hope can be such a cruel companion. Hope never lets you grieve and be done with it. Hope is the abuser you keep hoping will change.” Have you ever felt this way?
(Questions isssued by publisher.)

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