Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"How We Learned to Lie"

Meredith Miller is the author of Little Wrecks and How We Learned to Lie. She grew up in a large, unruly family on Long Island, New York, and now lives in the UK. She is a published short story writer and literary critic with a great love for big nineteenth-century novels and for the sea.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to How We Learned to Lie and reported the following:
How We Learned to Lie is written in two alternating first-person voices. Sometimes we see events in the novel from both perspectives and realize that the truth changes depending on where you look at it from. Joan and Daisy, the two close friends who narrate the novel, have started to hide things from each other. Blank spaces start to open in their relationship, spaces sometimes too big to fill with their love for each other, but they don’t stop trying.

So, any page you open the book to will only give you one of these perspectives. Page 69 turns out to be a good choice though, because here Joan describes the early years of her friendship with Daisy, and the first time he came inside her house and met her family. Here is an extract:
So I knew him already, when he showed up one Saturday morning in nothing but his Fruit of the Looms, knocked on the kitchen door and asked Gramps if he could eat breakfast with us. We were maybe nine.

Gramps stood aside and waved Daisy through the door, then he said, “Andre, get the boy a shirt.”

“That’s okay, Mr. Jensen. I’m not cold.”

“That’s as may be, but it’s polite to wear a shirt when you’re eating at someone else’s table.”

I wondered if Gramps’d ever met Mrs. McNamara. Her table was always weirdly perfect, but she might be sitting at it wearing just about anything.

Daisy sat there like a naked secret at our breakfast table, making me feel like a bunch of leaves had blown in the door, like something had been tracked in and I should grab a broom to sweep it out again. I just wanted to get him away from my family and back outside where he belonged.

Then he looked up and saw Arthur for the first time, drinking coffee with his chair tilted back. Daisy looked at the two back legs of that chair, gauging the balance and the chances of falling over. You could see the picture of potential disaster pass through his mind, busted head and blood and rushing to the emergency room. You could see him absorbing the fact that Arthur didn’t seem scared of any of that. Daisy got down to idolizing him right away.

“Arthur, put your feet down,” Gramps said, and went back to making pancakes.

“Hi, I’m Daisy.” He smiled at Arthur and put on the shirt Andre handed him. It was from the laundry basket but Gramps didn’t notice.

“Alright, little brother?” Arthur was fourteen. He was already working hard on his cool.

Daisy turned around to Andre and said, ‘Alright, brother?’

Andre just rolled his eyes.

Daisy ate five pancakes and drank a big glass of orange juice. When he was done his plate was so full of artificial maple syrup I couldn’t lift it without slopping some on the table. The feeling of my two lives grinding together was making me flinch, like fingernails on a blackboard. The sound of it was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think.
I think this gives you a good sense of Joan. She is a person who likes clear answers and for people and things to stay in their boxes. It drives her nuts when people don’t make sense or hide from the truth, when they can’t see what is perfectly clear to her.

I wonder if you get a good sense of Joan’s relationship with Daisy here, though? She is often cynical about him and tells him when she thinks he’s being stupid. When the chips are down though, she’ll do anything for him. A lot of what makes her angry at him is when he refuses to take care of himself or protect himself from people who will hurt him. In the end she finds it almost impossible to imagine her life without him.

There is also a sense of Daisy’s relation to Joan here. Part of what I was trying to establish in this scene is the way in which Daisy fetishizes Joan’s family. His own family has such enormous painful gaps in it; he seeks to fill those gaps by trying to fit himself in the Joan’s family. For Joan, it is a fantasy of her family and not the difficult reality that Daisy loves. In the end he’ll have to come to terms with this.

I love these two characters so much. I love who they are and I love their difficult love for each other. Their shared history goes back to their earliest memories. It turns out page 69 gives you a pretty good sense of that.
Visit Meredith Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue