Book Review: The Perfect Liar by Thomas Christopher Greene
The Perfect Liar by Thomas Christopher Greene is a compulsively readable domestic thriller that centers on two damaged souls drawn together and living in bliss… until a series of notes on their front door destroys any sense of serenity and forces them both to drastic action.
Susannah Garcia is a beautiful, widowed single mother, with a good, if demanding, job as the assistant to art world tastemaker and gallerist, Lydia Garabedian. Max is an artist looking for his one big break, who finds more than he expected when he crashes a party Lydia is hosting and unexpectedly falls in love with her alluring, redheaded assistant. Max had never imagined himself getting seriously involved with anyone, much less a woman who comes with a pre-teen son, but he and Susannah and Freddy quickly establish themselves as a happy, mutually supportive family unit.
After Max goes viral due to a TED Talk on artistry, a Vermont college offers him a teaching position, offering into the bargain a gorgeous suburban house for the duration of his stay. With Susannah all too happy to transplant her now teenaged son from the wilds of New York City to an environment that she’s certain will be healthier for them all, the family moves into a picture-perfect life.
And then the first note arrives, taped to the front door, declaring “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.”
Max and Susannah are both harboring secrets that they’re frantic to keep hidden, from the world and from each other. As the notes increase in number and intensity, the married couple must confront the darkness of their pasts and how those affect their present day. The twists and turns come quickly as the violence escalates, threatening to destroy everything the two have built together.
The Perfect Liar does a terrific job of warning against the assumption that you know a person and their motives just because you’re comfortable in a situation:
Max looked at his wife and he saw her differently all of a sudden. He saw her as he first saw her, back when she took his breath away as he came off the elevator expecting someone else entirely, that crazy rawboned beauty she had, the red hair and the deep brown eyes, as if the years were stripping away in front of him. It was funny how this happened sometimes: the way people we know will build layers over time, practically dermal, so that it takes something like this to see them again as we once did, when they were new and pure, a blank canvas waiting for lust to be painted on it.
Told from the alternating perspectives of Max and Susannah, the novel delves deeply into the hearts of a married couple who are pushed to the ends of their tethers. Though each member of this partnership is a sight more glamorous than the average middle-aged married person, their individual wistfulness for the past is eminently relatable, particularly in Susannah’s case. Barely in her twenties when she married her therapist (and yes, that turns out exactly as well as you might imagine,) she longs for the time before she needed him when her relationships were about freedom instead of responsibility:
She suddenly wanted to dance and had this pang of memory of being younger and going out to clubs in New York. When she was with her girlfriends and a favorite song would come on. How they all recognized it from the opening beat and rose up as one to go to the dance floor.
She remembered what it was like to live like that–how carefree she once was with her body, how it felt to move without thinking, the time before she became aware of every tiny sensation and thought it meant certain death. Sometimes it was hard to remember that there was a time before she lived in fear of losing her mind.
While I did guess some of The Perfect Liar’s plot twists, others, including that ending, completely caught me off guard. I really enjoyed how Thomas Christopher Greene built characters who were relatable despite occasionally being (and even then sometimes at their most) unhinged. This was a page-turner of a domestic thriller that fans of the genre will absolutely want to devour.