Liar's Diary, by Patry Francis

Some people think Aspergians don’t read anything except dictionaries and encyclopedias. That’s not true. I recently read a novel, the Liar’s Diary, by Patry Francis. I heard about it on Backspace, an online writer’s forum, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately anyway, struggling between 550 pages of the Greenspan book, and the 1,005 pages of Volume II of the 1771 Britannica.

It was a welcome, though unsettling interlude. I encourage you to order your own copy of Liar’s Diary from Amazon, right here:

The link I put up is for the paperback. Click “other editions” if you’d prefer the hardcover.

The story is told by Jeanne Cross, a secretary in the office of a New England school much likes the ones my brother and I flunked out of long ago. She’s married to Gavin, a local doctor, and they have a storybook life. Or so it seemed. It all takes a turn when Ali Mather comes to the school as a new music teacher.

In the first fifty pages, Patry has painted the scenes with enough realism that I am becoming unsettled. Jeanne’s life isn’t what it seems. As I read her descriptions of romance, desperation, and small town life, I wonder if the same things are going on around me. I worry more with each turn of a page.

Her words made me feel profoundly unsettled. Her scenes are eminently believable, and I realize they could be happening right now, anywhere. All Aspergians are self-centered, so I naturally wonder . . . is it happening here? To me? Are things going bad right on my own street?

I become more anxious the more I read. I can see all she describes, unfolding right here. And the worst thing . . . I understand it when reading her words, but I don’t know if I have the social sensitivity to pick it up if it were to occur for real right under my nose. Her book makes it real for me, in a way that experiencing it for real probably would not.

It’s like reading a book about poisonous snakes in the heating ducts. You watch the grilles warily for days or weeks after the book is done. This book is even scarier, because it’s not snakes in the grills. At least the grilles have covers. No, it’s the wives and kids that go bad. Even the dads. They all go bad. And the thing is, they are already loose. In her book, in my house, and in your house.

My brother and I already know that seeming good families can have dark secrets. I guess Patry knows it too. In the end, the truth comes out, but only after considerable torment and destruction.

I do enjoy books like this but they disturb me, because they show me how different we Aspergians can be. If I were living Patry’s story, most of it would have gone right over my head. So much relies on subtle visual cues, nuances of speech, things I am blind or deaf to. And the worst part is, I know real life is like that, and yet I go on, half-blind and half-deaf. What am I missing? In my own dysfunctional family, I think my Asperger’s protected me. Would it have protected me in hers? I don’t know.

Patry has a blog, which you can see here:


The Muse said…
On Stephen's blog I asked what were the most influential and inspirational books that the gang had read? I recently posed this same question to John… His immediate first response was the Encyclopedia Britannica!!! LOL

John, I’m glad to see that you are reading some fiction!
Polly Kahl said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish Ryan said…
What an interesting perspective! I'd never thought of how being "self-centered" can be a great protective device, whether generated by Asperger's or something else.
Anonymous said…
i've got my copy on order. can't wait to read it! i love her writing. i'm going to do join the wonderful gang of writers on the blog book tour organized to put the word out on her book since her struggles with cancer prevent her from doing a bunch of press. it's january 29th. maybe you can repost on that day?
"...I think my Asperger's protected me." Well that stopped me in my tracks. You do have a way of weaving your life view into the general blogosphere that is riveting. I've seen how your Aspergian mind can sort of the good, bad and ugly of a book first hand. You bring a unique perspective to looking at a story. Enjoy the Britannica!

(PS) I saw a powerful movie last night called "Autism Yesterday" that I'll blog soon.
John Robison said…
Trish and Kim, it's actually my belief that all humans are essentially self centered, and Aspergians are just forthright about it because we lack the social conversational filters.

And Kyra, I will try and repost on the 29th but it's not certain where I'll be as the British edition goes on sale soon and the publicity plans are still up in the air.
Polly Kahl said…
Hey Johm, I deleted my earlier post so I could re-post for clarification. As usual, your blog has provided lots of good fodder for thought and discussion.

I am about ten pages away from finishing the same book and I found your Aspergian angle review interesting. Good job describing the tension of the book while not giving away any spoilers. I'll be joining other writers who are blogging about this book on the 29th and it'll be interesting to see the diversity of reviews.

Related to Asperger's, on the one hand, an Aspergian may be less likely to feel traumatized by the drama and unhappiness of such a family situation in childhood, but on the other hand the family dynamics may be more likely to be repeated in adulthood if they're not acknowledged and addressed. Just because abuse isn't experienced by Asppergians in the same ways as most other people doesn't mean it doesn't have the same kind of impact. In my personal experience, the Aspergian I am close to is unable to protect himself from abuse in adulthood because he not only didn't develop the social skills he needed to take care of himself, but abuse was normalized for him in his childhood, so he sometimes doesn't even recognize it when it's happening now.
Chris Eldin said…
Thank you for her link, and the book recommendation. It is something I definitely want to read.
Anonymous said…
i had to come back to this once i finished her book. and i'm watching the vents over here, too.

i trust that it wouldn't have gone over your head, not if you were in that book, not with the force of Ali blowing the truth right down to eye level.
Yay for Patry! I'm so glad the blog support day is helping her. Your blog gets so many hits, John, that I bet a lot of her improvement in sales ranking has to do with you.

I've decided to post my Patry Francis support piece on my blog tomorrow, to help keep the support she's getting in the blogosphere going for longer than one day. (Also, I had a little something wild happen to one of my books online today that I felt needed attention in today's posting.

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