The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

All those books with ‘Lie’ in the title are there for a reason

Life is full of unreliable narrators.

When I first dreamed up the character Amber Reynolds, there were only three things I knew about her: She was in a coma, her husband didn’t love her anymore, and sometimes she lied. That became the opening of my new novel, “Sometimes I Lie.” The facets of deceit fascinate me, so I wrote a story that asks: Is something a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

I’m not the only author to be seduced by the lies we tell ourselves and others. In the past year, there have been numerous books, many of them thrillers, using variations of the word “Lie” in their titles. The word “Girl” enjoyed a similar experience after the success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” There was a sudden explosion of “Girls” adorning a galaxy of book covers. It was like a literary big bang, one that both publishers and readers believed in. But are “Lies” the new “Girls,” and if so, why?

Publishing, like every industry, has bandwagons that beg to be jumped on. But I think this latest trend might be more than that. Perhaps the real reason we are drawn to reading and writing about lies is because, in a society divided by social, political and religious beliefs, lying is something that unites us — something we have in common.

Lying is a language we’re all fluent in. We lie to fit in or to stand out. We lie about our age, our weight and the amount of alcohol we consume. We lie on résumés, greeting cards and dating sites. Nobody reads the terms and conditions; we all just tick the box.

We weave blankets of lies to wrap around our children, to protect them from the truths that might hurt too much or leave a scar. We use lies like Lego, building colorful houses in which to hide because sometimes the truth of who we are and what we’ve become is unpalatable. But those little bricks of deceit can hurt when accidentally stepped on. And lies don’t come with gift receipts; you can’t take them back.

What ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ have wrought

We’re fascinated by lies because they taste better than the truth, and we swallow them down like bittersweet pills because we’re addicted to the way they make us feel. Tongues oiled with lies tend to loosen more easily, and lying is a bad habit we’ve become rather good at. But familiarity breeds credence, not contempt, and lies told often enough can start to sound true.

We’re all familiar with little white lies, but the spectrum is infinite. Some lies are shades of blue, like the ones that dismiss depression and loneliness as two of the biggest dangers to our health. Other lies are green, like the ones that suggest we are not destroying our own planet. Some lies are red, like those that blind us to bloodshed and inhumanity if it occurs on a different continent than our own. Ignorance isn’t bliss; it is merely fear postponed to a later date. When we blow out all the candles of truth, it tends to leave us in the dark, no matter what we wished for.

Books about lies offer a paper sanctuary from the screen-shaped variety. We broadcast our Sunday-best smiles 24/7 on the stage that social media built, and permit our own personal curtain of anxiety and tears to fall only when we’re sure the lights on our camera phones are safely out. We forge fake friendships, and we think lies are the answer to our loneliness. We post pictures made from lie-shaped pixels, pretending to be someone, something, somewhere we are not. We gorge on the online lies of others, hoping they might fill up all our empty spaces. If you could smell the screen you’re staring at, it would stink of fear.

The stories we tell one another about our lives are like snow globes. We shake the facts of what happened in our minds, then watch and wait while the pieces settle into fiction. If we don’t like the way the pieces fall, we just shake the story again, until it looks how we want it to.

If “Lies” are the new “Girls,” then what next? The one thing in life I’ve never known to be a lie is true love. Without wishing to sound too sentimental (I write dark and twisty thrillers, after all), perhaps one day, there will be a wave of books with the word “Love” in their titles. Love is something we can hide inside, but also believe in, if we choose to.

We are all the unreliable narrators of our own lives, but while there is still love in the world, there is also hope, and that’s no lie.

Alice Feeney, a former BBC reporter, is the author of the book “Sometimes I Lie.”

Ron Charles will return next week.

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