Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Just Out! All The Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

The service was held at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist, a white wooden church with a high steeple that was on the Old Post Road. Harry, Alice, and Paul arrived early, and Harry and Alice spoke to the minister, a grey-haired woman over six feet tall, who went over what she planned on saying. Harry knew most of it already. It was going to be a short service; two hymns, a eulogy, a reading by Carl Ridley, Bill's cousin from Sanford. Alice had already met with the minister to go over some of the details of Bill's life, and the minister briefly recounted them now. Harry was glad that there was significant mention of his mother, and how devoted Bill had been to her. It was his only concern, worried that Alice had only seen Bill's life as beginning when she had come into it. But the words the minister planned on saying comprised all of Bill's life, including both his marriages, his son, his lifelong affair with books, even his infamous cooking. As Harry, Alice and the minister talked, a few early-arriving guests filtered slowly into the church...
It was a relief to sit, to hear the murmur of people behind him, and know that he didn't have to acknowledge them, at least not yet. He felt guilty that he wasn't saying anything at his father's funeral, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He didn't trust himself to speak in public, worried that he'd be overtaken by either anger or grief, or a combination of both. He even still worried about his lisp, long eradicated except in his mind, where he often heard the echoes of how he used to speak. There'd be a receiving line after the service, and he'd have to speak then, but just to people one-on-one. Still, the thought of it made his skin feel prickly, and his breathing shallow...
Harry turned back as the minister adjusted the microphone at the pulpit. He took a deep breath to prepare himself, but the service was relatively painless...She talked about his love of the coast of Maine. "Alice spoke to me about Bill's need to see the ocean every day. How it grounded him. He found his true and spiritual home here in Kennewick, and for that we should all be grateful."
Alice dipped her head next to Harry, and covered her face with her hands. He slid toward her and put an arm around her narrow shoulders. Behind him he could hear stifled crying.
After the eulogy, Carl Ridley walked gingerly to the pulpit, a trembling sheet of paper in his hand. Tears already streaked Carl's papery cheeks before he even spread out the sheet of paper in front of him. There was a long pause, Carl smoothed back his thinning hair, but then he was speaking, saying how Bill's office was deorated by two things: stacks and stacks of books, and one poem, tacked onto the wall. The poem was "If," by Rudyard Kipling...Harry had heard the poem before, or at least the line that went, "If you can meet triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same," but he'd forgotten that the poem was a message from a father to a son. Harry tensed his jaw. His aunt, from behind him, put a hand on his shoulder, making it worse. But then at the end of the recitation--"You'll be a man, my son!"--Paul leaned close to his ear and said, "Jesus, salt in the wound." and Harry quietly laughed, feeling better...
~~~

All The Beautiful Lies

By Peter Swanson

Harry had come home to Grey Lady, his home since he was first born, upon hearing his father had died. Leaving before graduation was not really a problem. He was worried more about going home, to having only Alice, his father's second wife, there, alone. He'd admitted to himself a long time ago, when he first met his father's bride, that she was beautiful and that he was attracted to her. Alice was closer to Harry's age than to his father's. But he'd been in college and rarely went home. Now that was impossible.

He had also noticed a stranger at the funeral, a young attractive girl he knew was not a long-term resident in his home town. But he was soon busy since his father had run a local bookstore and his one assistant would need help. Harry reluctantly accepted he would have to help out at least until they knew what would happen in the future.

Still, the primary issue for him was that he was not satisfied with what had really happened to his father. He had walked the area for years without incident. What could have happened to bring about an accidental death? Only later it was changed and being treated as a suspicious death... Who would kill his father?


Toward the end of the day, the bell
sounded, the front door opening to a
customer for just the fourth time that
day...Harry went to his post at the cash
register. The customer was the woman
from the funeral, with the short dark
hair. She was wearing the headband
again. Harry felt his cheeks flush at
the sight of her. She spotted him and
walked right over, almost too
purposefully...
"I was wondering if you're hiring...
~~~
Of course, the role of the second wife always comes to mind at a sudden death. Still I was surprised that the novel takes us back to the earlier life of Alice, as she moved to Kennebunk, at the age of 14. Thereafter, the story moves back and forth between now and then and follows Alice's life through to the present.

It was hard to understand this character and readers will begin to question her role, her intentions, and her mental health. Especially when she makes it clear that she would be willing to accept Harry into her bed now... Let's just say the present sometimes follows history... And, as the title predicts, there will be many lies spewed out...but not enough to allow us to be sure who the villain is!

Because before long, the woman from the funeral had stopped in the Bookstore, asking about a job. But, right away, Harry knew there was more to her story as well. Would she be truthful or would he have to search out her lies as well...

Learning about your father after his death can be a traumatic experience for a son and Harry was caught in the lives, the lies of those who had filled a place in his father's life. The story flows smoothly, sharing more and more, creating suspense that keeps you edgy, frustrated, as well as feelings of sympathy for Harry, the son of a man who he thought had lived in and through his books. And perhaps he did but Harry was seeing another death after his father's, was soon in the hospital as he chased a man who seemed to be part of what was happening... Until little by little, pieces fell together...

But readers will only begin to know as Harry puts everything together... and even as the book ended, the surprise of another death neatly closes the story... Wow! This one has to be read to discover the full impact of the intrigue that occurred over many years there in Kennebunk, Maine... Highly recommended!


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Peter Swanson is the author of The Kind Worth Killing, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and Her Every Fear. His stories and poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Measure, Mysterical-E, Soundings East, The Vocabula Review, and Yankee Magazine. His second novel, The Kind Worth Killing, won the New England Society Book Award for fiction. He has degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College. He lives with his wife in Somerville, Massachusetts.