Gorgeous Lies

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Acclaimed by critics, Martha McPhee's debut Bright Angel Time established her as a dazzling new talent in American fiction; she fulfills her promise and breaks ambitious new ground with Gorgeous Lies. Charismatic therapist Anton Furey is dying, and the tribe he heads-his five children, his wife's three, and their uniting child, Alice-has returned to Chardin, the farm where they grew up and played out Anton's vision of communal living. They had been famous for being the new American blended family, their utopian ...

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Overview

Acclaimed by critics, Martha McPhee's debut Bright Angel Time established her as a dazzling new talent in American fiction; she fulfills her promise and breaks ambitious new ground with Gorgeous Lies. Charismatic therapist Anton Furey is dying, and the tribe he heads-his five children, his wife's three, and their uniting child, Alice-has returned to Chardin, the farm where they grew up and played out Anton's vision of communal living. They had been famous for being the new American blended family, their utopian lifestyle chronicled by film crews and reporters. But as Anton grows weaker, the hurts and betrayals of those years boil to the surface, and the children find themselves reliving the knotty intimacies they share as they struggle to make their peace with Anton. With shimmering prose and an acutely observant eye, McPhee has created a portrait of an era and a family that explores the limits, and obligations, of love.

Finalist for the 2002 National Book Award, Fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Time Book Review
"[McPhee]'s prose captures the Chardin mood: Elegant and airy, it seems to levitate even the grubbiest details."
O Magazine
"An unusually strong novel [that] explores the wild frontier of domestic life."
Elle
"McPhee is a sensuous stylist."
Washington Post Book World
"It's easy to see why the charismatic figures from BRIGHT ANGEL TIME would not loosen their grip on this author."
Larry McMurtry
"Gorgeous Lies is a lovely meditation on mortality . . . Brilliantly and convincingly done."
Santa Fe New Mexican
"When McPhee strikes the right rhythm, you don't so much read her prose as live inside it."
Albany Times-Union
"McPhee brings sensitivity and insight to her account.... She is an immensely gifted novelist."
Dallas Morning News
"Deftly depicts individuals dealing with old memories and new problems."
author of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED - Tim O'Brien
"I loved this book. Martha McPhee plainly ranks as one of our country's best young writers."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR GORGEOUS LIES
"The greatest strength of Gorgeous Lies is in its multiplicity of perspectives. . . . It's easy to see why the charismatic figures from Bright Angel Time would not loosen their grip on this author."
-The Washington Post Book World

"[McPhee] avoids the extremes of hippie nostalgia and conservative revisionism and doesn't provide any simple answers. . . . Elegant and airy."-Los Angeles Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly
An offbeat writing style and poetic metaphors distinguish this crowded tale of a patriarch, his harem of lovers and the litters of offspring they produce, the follow-up to McPhee's well-received novel Bright Angel Time. Gestalt therapist Anton Furey is dying of pancreatic cancer, and the people closest to him gather at the New Jersey family estate, Chardin, and recall the emotional ups and downs of life with a womanizing dreamer and charismatic charmer. His children with ex-wife Agnes insecure Nicholas, gentle Caroline, money-hungry Sofia, barely there Timothy and adopted Finny (son of Anton and an Italian maid) are not fully sketched: some are given vivid cameos, while others fade into the background. The children of Anton's wife Eve from a previous marriage cynical, headstrong Jane, model-perfect Julia and homely Kate are better drawn and as flighty in their loyalty to their stepfather as he is in his choice of lovers. Youngest daughter Alice, the only child of Anton and Eve, is Anton's favorite for her mix of joie de vivre and sweet gravity. Like an anti-Brady Bunch, the members of the sprawling double family fluctuate in their alliances and affections over the 25 years of Eve and Anton's marriage. Their one common trait is their hunger for Anton's attention and approval. As the novel unfolds, Anton's unlikely past is revealed: his Texas childhood, his early stint in a Jesuit seminary and his grand passion for the communal haven of Chardin. His insatiable need for connection particularly with women can be repellant (as when he pursues one of his stepdaughters), but it is his infectious zest for life that drives this invigorating if convoluted novel. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus
"Fine work: A moving portrait of a foolish, foul-hearted, but impossibly innocent man." —starred review
Library Journal
McPhee returns here to the characters and themes of her much-praised first novel, Bright Angel Time. In 20 years, many things have changed in the lives of the large Furey-Cooper clan. Once the members were widely known as exemplars of a new kind of blended family, living out the utopian visions of patriarch Anton. Now Anton lies virtually helpless, dying slowly with many dreams unrealized and his magnum opus on human sexuality unwritten. The siblings gather at the family farm, linked painfully not only by grief but also by longtime resentments, disappointments, and misunderstandings that fester as Anton's end approaches. Most heavily burdened is youngest daughter Alice, the biological and symbolic link between the Fureys and Coopers, who is obsessed with somehow ending her father's suffering. More somber than the earlier book, but its equal in subtlety and clever writing, this novel chronicles the fate of Sixties and Seventies ideals colliding with the harsher realities of the Nineties. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/02.] Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a continuation of McPhee's Bright Angel Time (1997), the strange and lovely life of a man is recalled by all of the wives, children, and assorted others who have gathered around his deathbed. Previously, Anton came across mainly as a hippie: a 1970s Esalen gestalt therapist who preached free love and practiced what he preached-with a vengeance. Here, his life is looked at from farther back, this in light of his just having been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. From Texas, Anton was raised in a devout Catholic family, entered the Jesuit order in the late 1940s, and spent several years training to be a priest. While studying at Notre Dame, he fell in love with Agnes, an oil heiress, and in 1954 left the order to marry her. The sexual obsessions that had plagued him in religious life weren't conquered by the Sacrament of Matrimony, however, and his philandering gradually led to much unhappiness, an illegitimate son, and a Haitian divorce of dubious legality. After leaving Agnes (who won custody of their five children and agreed to pay him alimony), Anton takes up with the newly divorced Eve Cooper, who comes to him for psychotherapy. Later, Anton and Eve start a communal farm in New Jersey called Chardin (as in Teilhard), where they live in domestic confusion with Eve's three daughters, some of Anton's children, and their own daughter Alice (who was nearly aborted but saved by a family vote). Chardin becomes mildly famous, written up in People and Look and shown on TV documentaries, but the children and Eve eventually leave Anton and go their separate ways. They all return once they learn that he's dying, however, and collectively argue over how they can or should remember him once hehas gone. Somewhat rambling, but fine work nevertheless: a moving portrait of a foolish, foul-hearted, but impossibly innocent man.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156028820
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/6/2003
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha McPhee

Martha McPhee is the author of Bright Angel Time, a New York Times Notable book, and coauthor with Jenny and Laura McPhee of Girls. She teaches at Hofstra University
and lives in New York City.

Good To Know

A large portion of McPhee's family all had books published in the fall of 2002. McPhee reports, "Of all of them I am in awe. The list includes my husband, Mark Svenvold's Elmer McCurdy: The Life and Strange Afterlife of an American Outlaw (Basic Books), my sister Jenny McPhee's paperback of her first novel The Center of Things (Ballantine Books); my half-sister Joan Sullivan's memoir An American Voter: My Love Affair with Presidential Politics (Bloomsbury); my father John McPhee's 25th book of nonfiction, The Founding Fish (FSG); my sister Sarah McPhee's work of art historical research, Bernini and the Belltowers: Architecture and Politics of the Vatican (Yale University Press).

While McPhee's father John is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, McPhee told us that "my mother has always wanted to be a writer, and indeed believes the gene is hers. When my little sister, Joan, product of my mother and stepfather, finished her first and beautiful book, my mother declared it proof the gene was hers."

One of McPhee's first jobs was as a caterer for wealthy Park Avenue New Yorkers. "I could write a sort of Nanny Diaries about the famous literati that I fed and served," she confides, "but for the meantime I'll be silent."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Bowdoin College, 1987; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1994

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
Promise
THEY LOVED ANTON. Every single one of them. Alice most of all. She was his youngest. Eve loved him. She was his wife. Agnes loved him. She was his ex-wife. Lily loved him. She was his lover. They all loved him. The little beady-eyed preacher woman, the woman who sold ducks, Eve's divorce lawyer who always had a different girl on his arm, the Strange couple from down the road. (That was their name, Strange, and they were strange, with dramatic drawn-out English accents, though they were not English-he a poet and a banker, she an aging actress.) The Furey kids loved him, of course. He was their father. The Cooper girls tried to hate him, but what they really wanted was for him to love them. Love them big and wide and infinitely, like a father. The Cooper girls were not his children.

Once, they had all lived at Chardin-all the children, that is. Long ago in the 1970s. It was called Chardin for the Omega Point, and it was Anton's dream that he could create a home that was a perfect meeting place of the human and the divine: a divine milieu, the setting for a profound and mystical vision of God. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was his preferred philosopher. He upset the Catholic Church, scaring its thinkers into thinking about his attempt to combine evolutionary theory and Christian theology in a seamless whole.

Chardin sprawled on a hill, the highest point in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, blessed with hundred-mile views and lapped by seas of green fields rolling into cornfields and forests with creeks slinking through them. And up there, there was a lot of sky with all its storms and sunshine. In the spring forsythia, magnolia, lilac, and dogwood bloomed. The house had been a hunter's cabin, added on to over the years by Anton and the architect so that wings extended from it, spokelike, sprouting glass rooms and lofts and decks. At one end of the house an indoor swimming pool steamed like the mouth of a dragon, so fiercely you could not see but an inch in front of you. Steam seeped through the cracks in the sliding doors so that that end of the house seemed alive. Anton, who was many things-a philosopher writing a treatise on love, a berry salesman, a dealer in Haitian art, a writer, a Gestalt therapist, a Texan-had wanted the indoor pool as a place to hold therapy sessions.

The architect loved him. They had big dreams for what more they would do to Chardin. Dreams involving silos, Moorish courtyards, a barn, a tower on the barn, an office from which Anton could watch the setting sun. On the roof of this office he would gather all his children and friends to read poetry in the dimming light.

"I need a small pool. Big enough to fit twenty-five people or so and it needs to get pretty hot," Anton said to the architect upon first meeting him. Standing in the architect's living room, he also asked for a whiskey though it wasn't noon. Outside, Anton's turquoise Cadillac languished in the sun, filled with kids. "Scotch," the architect said, because he only had scotch. Slim and handsome, with a quiet voice and a tendency to stroke his bearded chin, he was a precise man with a tidy mind and a tidy house, and in his world people did not drink before six. On Anton's ring finger the architect noticed an enormous turquoise ring. In his world, as well, men did not wear rings. His name was Laurence-pronounced the French way. Anton drank down the scotch and then ushered Laurence into the back of the Cadillac while all the kids crammed up front. Schoolbooks and boys' underwear were everywhere, and as Anton drove fast Laurence flopped this way, then that, picking the underwear off of him. "A pool," Anton said, looking at Laurence in the rearview mirror, "for my therapy sessions. I believe in finding ways to become un-self-conscious." And Laurence nodded and the kids carried on up front. Anton had one hand on the wheel, the other draped over the back of the seat. He piloted the car like a master, suave Texan that he was. The idea of un-self-consciousness floated like a party balloon in the back. Laurence hoped he'd get to this house alive. And he worried. He was a worrier. You could read it on his tightened face. "I don't know," Laurence kept saying, distressed because an indoor pool was never as easy as it seemed, because his beautiful wife was having an affair, because he had four teenage boys and a floundering practice in a tidy little town. "It'll be fine," Anton said into the rearview mirror-smooth Texas accent. And just the way he said it, just the way Anton held him with his eyes, made Laurence feel possibility. As if Anton's eyes opened up for him and allowed him a visit inside, the mix of enthusiasm and wickedness and faith therein beckoning Laurence, seducing Laurence-as if Anton's dreams, sliding off his lips like truth, were large enough to save him, too.

They became fast friends with their elaborate visions for Chardin. Before too long Anton was inviting Laurence to rebirthing ceremonies on the front lawn in which a person ready for rebirth crawled naked through a canal of arching bodies, teaching Laurence one more aspect of un-self-consciousness.

The steam from the pool caused the ivy to thrive. Ivy crept up the walls, nearly covering the house. It crept through some of the windows into some of the rooms, and though it looked beautiful, over the years it caused the walls to rot, the roof to leak, the pipes to crack. Its roots snaked underground and around the sewage pipes, cracking them, too, and on thick July days the faint smell of waste wafted over the yard.

"It'll be all right," Anton promised. He promised that many times over the years-when the waste backed up into the basement bathroom and overflowed onto the basement floor; when water dripped through the ceiling from the roof onto Julia's pink bedspread; when, indeed, the design for an indoor pool proved more difficult than originally thought and the wall between the pool and Jane's room turned to paste and crumbled. "It'll be all right," he promised when they couldn't afford the taxes and the IRS threatened to foreclose on the house, when cops flew low over the cornfields in helicopters to determine if grass was growing there. Grass as in pot, dope, weed, reefer, marijuana. Anton and the kids grew it back then, in the 1970s, and the cops would fly in low to inspect the fields and Anton would shout to all the kids, "The cops are coming!" His beautiful, wicked grin lit up each one of them. They'd scramble out of the house, slithering into the fields to lay waste to the plants. "The cops are coming," exhilaration in his voice and a thrill running through the kids because they knew that they would not get caught. "It's just ditch weed anyway," one kid would say. The cops would come, would circle, that's true. The loud hum of the helicopters teasing the kids as they lay in the fields against the prickly husks and the corn silk. The wind from the helicopters blew over their backs.

"It'll be all right," Anton promised with all the authority of a Texas Ranger-his sideburns curling, his blue eyes squinting, his Texas accent full. He was six generations Texas on his mama's side. The first oil well in Texas blew at Spindletop on January 10, 1901, not far from the site of his great-great-granddaddy Beaumont's farm. Beaumont had been a French trapper, trapped alligators in the bayous and swamps. In 1824 he sold his land to other trappers and farmers and they made the town of Beaumont to honor him, and the town thrived, growing rich on rice and salt and soy and even blueberries and later crawfish from the Neches River before it became an oil mecca. "If only Beaumont hadn't sold the land," Anton would tell the kids, as if great wealth and fortune were just within their grasp. His great-granddaddy was a journalist for the Corsicana Star and one of the few men in Texas who was pro-Union during the Civil War. One hundred and twenty thousand men wore the gray coats and fought for the Confederacy. Just two thousand supported the Union, and most of them were forced to leave the state. But John Darling stayed and made his opinions known. No one was going to throw him out of Texas. "It's the rich man's war and the poor man's fight," he wrote as boys were drafted to fight while slave owners were not required to enlist. Anton's granddaddy was the first in their line to leave Texas. He drove off in a convertible Pierce Arrow with the top down all the way to Hollywood to become the pharmacist to the stars. He bought a movie mogul's mansion and lived his life out there, leaving behind his Catholic-convert wife to die of a female disease and his young daughter, Emma Darling, Anton's mama, to be raised by Ursuline nuns. For the remainder of Darling's life he longed for Texas. Of Texas Texans are proud. It remains in them, the essential ingredient of who they are. That's how it was for Anton, and for the Furey and Cooper kids. Texas became a mythic spot of identity and action, of high-stakes poker where little rich boys lost their daddy's Cadillacs in a game, a country of tall tales where people talked big and lived big and the laws of life elsewhere did not exist.

On March 20, 1930, Anton was born in Corsicana; it was a cool spring morning, very early, very dark, and the air fragrant with first flowers. Winds from the east blew in quietly along with the Great Depression, and Bonnie and Clyde were on the road robbing banks, already capturing many imaginations. But the real significance of this day is that it would later be discovered to be the true birth date of Christ. At Chardin, on this occasion, there would be a celebration: champagne and waltzing and the Serape rug rolled back and toasts to Anton for sharing this with Christ, adding all the more to his power and allure. Anton, big large man that he was, loomed over all the kids-their leader, their guide. They loved him. Whatever the problem, he would say, "We'll figure it out."

"Promise?" the kids would ask. Promise like a ticket to somewhere fabulous, like an answer. Promise, rich beautiful word that it is. Promise. The oath of God to Abraham. That their futures would be safe, clear, understood. Promise like a road map, like insurance. Promise.

"I promise," he would say to them, sipping a glass of whiskey, a flute of champagne. An ascot folded softly at his neck. And they believed him-for a long, long time they believed him.

And the scent of lilac was always stronger than the smell of waste, and the cops were simply on a routine training mission, and the IRS man, all dressed in black, walking up the long driveway with a briefcase in his hand, simply needed help with a flat.

"POP?" ALICE ASKS. It is 1994. Her voice is gentle, but firm with will. She has just graduated from college and is on her way to India on a Fulbright scholarship to study Indian cinema for a year, her life about to open like a flower. "I can't leave unless you say you'll visit." She smiles, giddy with ambition to do good things, contribute herself to the world. "Aim high," her father has always told her. "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

She wants to understand how the dreams of films-Hindu women dancing love dances on broken glass to save their lovers' lives-can lend an entire culture a bit of peace and hope. Traveling movie theaters, screens hitched to the backs of trucks, lighting up a few thousand lives in the countryside. Fairy tales are her belief; her father always taught her to believe in the possibility of the impossible, that fairyland is reasonable, indeed, is common sense.

Anton reclines in his bed, propped against a sea of white pillows. He's an old man, old before his time, aging fast now at sixty-four. Thin and unshaven and weak. His skin is gray. His hair is gray. His tongue is gray. Mysterious cramps dart through his abdomen, crippling darting cramps. Sun streams through the bedroom of windows, and outside is a spectacular late-May day with a breeze and no clouds and everything smells of lilac. The room is thick with the purple branches, the buds like tiny grapes. Alice stands at the edge of the bed, wanting his permission to go, as if permission will heal him, hold him here till she returns. She is a practical, disciplined girl, her father's opposite in many ways. He would tell her fondly that he has had to be extremely undisciplined (credit-card debts, chronic lateness, a smoker of fine Moroccan hash among other things) in order to teach her otherwise. But like her father she also has a great capacity for dreams.

She wears jeans and a T-shirt and baseball cap (her traveling outfit) beneath which is tucked her long walnut hair. She's a strong girl with an energy that makes her seem as though she is always on the verge of erupting-a toughness countered by an exquisite beauty that softens her, eliciting in others the need to protect her. A beauty that emanates aloofness and in that an alluring mystery. Determination lights her face; it's in those fierce gray eyes. Miracles blossom in front of her. Anton sees a glass wall go up, cutting her off from him. He wants to reach through the wall and grab her back. He is beginning to lose his ability to dream. Look at me wasted here, he wants to say. Her voice wraps around him, envelops him with exhilaration and the force of her will. "Say you'll come," she insists.

"Watch out for monkeys, babe," he warns, trying to prop himself up. "They're devilish little creatures. Beguiling. They are not your friends, even if they try to convince you otherwise." He squints a smile, forcing it out between his lips and the pain, a Texas half smile.

"You'll feel better again. You'll even be fat again," she reassures, though somewhere she knows she's bluffing.

That smile of his turns ironic, then hopeless, then boyish. "I was never too fat, babe," he says, accent thickening. "Just healthy." He's bluffing, too, of course. They're both bluffing. They both know, yet neither will concede. He's taught her-endless games of poker. She's sitting on a full house. Just another ace is all she needs. He wants to cheat and give her that ace.

"We'll see a lot when you come." Her eyes warm, changing colors like wet stones, and it's as if she were singing, a lark, a nightingale with the beauty of the world on her tongue. Rossignol, "nightingale" in French, the name of the petit and very dark-skinned man who married him to Eve at the Oloffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince. Eve in her cream silk standing by his side on the balcony. Pigs and chickens and schoolchildren in their uniforms racing on the streets below and the jolly painted buses lumbering along and the old women with paniers of bread balancing on their heads while the Tonton Macoutes keep guard with their AK-47s. He sees the day as if he were there. The ceiling fans move the slow-motion heat and the blessings are read and he kisses the bride. Familiar French songs drift in from far away. That night they'll attend a voodoo ceremony-women dancing wildly to the thump thump of beating drums; men decapitating chickens, painting their bodies with the blood. They'll hike through the mountains to Jacmel, make love in the open; Haitian families will invite them in for a meal, give them a mat to sleep on, a painting for a souvenir, discuss Duvalier and his cure for yaws. The Oloffson was the setting for The Comedians; he and Eve had slept in the Graham Greene suite. The romance and excitement appeared visceral in the heat.

Anton has the urge to tell this story to Alice again, but she is singing already, herself. He winces. The cramp slices through the flesh and muscle of his belly to his back, a well-sharpened knife slipping around in there. He closes his eyes and the lark sings a song colored by painkillers and the approaching dusk and he hears everything she has ever said about India...The full moon suspended over the Apollo Bunder, lighting up the whole of Bombay. Coming to him in opiated clips. That big and brilliant platinum moon, somehow closer, somehow different, more moonish, more spectacular. And the rains come and the heat lifts in a steam to reveal a woman dancing in the center of a giant lotus flower, beckoning her lover to descend from the thin air above, and he arrives tethered to a string. India is one place Anton has never been, one place Alice wants to show him. His love of adventure is a gift he has given to her. He counts the gifts now as if to read her future, glimpse the woman she will become. The gopuram of Madurai sprawling over that insane town. The country roads thick with cars and lorries and bullock carts and festivals celebrating the holy cow, and the fields afire in the evening and the whole world smelling of sugar, and herds of goats, and packs of newborn chicks, and castles, entire towns made of sand, palaces floating in desert lakes, the Ganges at night: pitch black and all the people gone and the river so quiet and big like a beast, a massive sleeping beast-Eliot's strong brown god-and the mist just lifting lightly but hanging on, eerie with the smell of coal fires and of the burning ghats. And the lotus flower closes concealing the lovers and then the petals open and the flower floats on a pond and the woman continues her intricate dance. He imagines Alice, a lark in the latticed windows of the Pink Palace of Jaipur, in the early morning hours at Chardin. How the birds sing, an entire orchestra with their elaborate odes to day. The red earth of Karnataka and the golden sands of Arabian beaches. The flute player in the smoggy streets of Calcutta, the smell of woodsmoke mixed with sunflower and jasmine and apple and orange. "Dad, please come?" she says. Let me sleep, please, babe, let me sleep here awhile. The red-faced and mean and untrustworthy monkeys swinging between the dazzling branches of the banyan trees, rising up the boulder mountain to the place where the monkey god was born.

He opens his eyes and looks at his girl behind the glass and he knows that she will leave, and though he knows it is not rational and though he knows it is not fair or just, he feels betrayed. Don't go, please, he wants to ask of her. Just sit here and let me look at you.

"Do watch out for the monkeys, babe," he says instead, because for only her is he still perfect. He wants to remain that way. "They bite. I don't want to have to come all the way to India to take care of a monkey-bitten daughter," giving her, in this, permission. He rises on the pillows. She leans down and kisses him, holds him tight and kisses him-imagining herself as a monkey-bitten daughter that her father has come to retrieve. He wants to say good-bye simple as that. Have a good time. I'll come. She is just a young girl standing before him, a child who emphatically does not want to grow up. Not yet. Not in this way.

"Don't ever be sentimental, babe. You can be romantic, but never sentimental." He gives her the Texas squint and rubs his belly as if he could massage the pain right out of it like air bubbles in bread dough. "Smoke a good joint for me. Dope's good over there," and from his wallet he gives her a hundred-dollar bill. "For good grass, babe."

She pockets the bill, stuffing it into the front pocket of her jeans as if it were a tissue, feeling light because she knows she's won this hand. "Bring everyone," she says suddenly, greedily even. "What if you all came to visit? That would be fun. Wouldn't that be fun?" She feels like her mother using that word fun. Fun is her mother's word. We will have fun. You're having fun, aren't you? Fun. Fun. Everything fun. Then she imagines them all in India, the whole clan, all eight brothers and sisters and her mother. And she does believe it would be fun and it does seem possible, a matter of logistics-that is all. Her family like a long tail extending from her, trailing after her across the vast, hot expanse of the subcontinent. Marching like a tribe. Fun. The image makes her feel powerful, as if she really did have the ability to make this family whole-perhaps her most certain and central fairy tale.

"They'd never want to come," Anton says, taking the notion seriously.

"Don't be sorry for yourself. And besides, they would," she says brightly. "You know they would."

"You really think so?" he asks, perking up with hope. Hope, like an injection. "What about the Cooper girls? They'd never come." His blue eyes droop, resigned. Sorry for himself indeed.

"That's not true. You know that. Why wouldn't they come?" But then she pauses. Dread seeps inside of her, spreading out like a stain. She sees her three Cooper sisters bickering, faces red with it, as they complain about their childhoods. She paces. Looks around, how neat the room is. Her mother's doing. Afghan folded over back of rocking chair. Books in tidy stacks. Photographs of all the kids-having fun-on all the various family trips. All the ages they have all been. For twenty-five years this family has tried to be a family. She feels tired and wants to leave. For half a year she has been planning this trip. She's spoken with a famous director; he intends to meet her-Sanjay Deep of cinema Deep fame with five hundred films to his credit. She wants to step inside a film, learn the dance, the how-to of lip-synching the songs. She wants to step inside dreams, understand them, explore them, invade them. She looks through the sliding doors to the deck, the yard, the fields, the forests, the deep and distant views of farms and silos and hills and sky. She thinks about the long trip in front of her and of how very far away it will take her from her world and she feels the exuberance of a clean slate and time.

She adjusts her baseball cap, flipping the bill to the back. She has a certain power over Jane and knows that if she convinces Jane to come then Jane will convince Julia who will convince Kate. They are woven together like fabric, inextricable threads.

Anton folds his gray hands at his belly. Very gray against the white sheets, he shuts his eyes. His lips pinch as he eats the pain. No good feeling about this has he, but he will not let her know. Go, he wants to say now. Go quickly.

"They'll come," she says. "For me." She imagines herself as a bridge, the family stepping along her spine. Determined little girl, she's been working this family together since she was pencil-size in her mother's womb, negotiating all their troubles with her extraordinary capacity to be fair. "She'll be a judge someday," her sisters and brothers predict.

Anton holds her. She is warm inside with her plan and everything becomes sweet because there is a plan and there is not yet an explanation for the crippling darting cramps and she will leave. The mystery illness is shrouded in the vast expanse of hope. Hope infused in her simple words, bright and forceful, You will come. (And the family, too!) Hope in her erect stance and her thrilling determination. Foolish hope, corrosive hope. You Will Come.

"I won't go unless you promise."

Gently he squeezes her hand, placing a light kiss on her large forehead, pulling her close, the soft same newborn smell of her as if she still fit into his palm. He sees her blown to India carried by the force of his breath, rising and sinking on its back away from him. "Promise, babe." A commitment, the authority of the Word. His nose stings. His eyes close. "I couldn't go a year without seeing you. It'll be all right."

Copyright © 2002 by Martha McPhee

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE
Promise
THEY LOVED ANTON. Every single one of them. Alice most of all. She was his youngest. Eve loved him. She was his wife. Agnes loved him. She was his ex-wife. Lily loved him. She was his lover. They all loved him. The little beady-eyed preacher woman, the woman who sold ducks, Eve's divorce lawyer who always had a different girl on his arm, the Strange couple from down the road. (That was their name, Strange, and they were strange, with dramatic drawn-out English accents, though they were not English-he a poet and a banker, she an aging actress.) The Furey kids loved him, of course. He was their father. The Cooper girls tried to hate him, but what they really wanted was for him to love them. Love them big and wide and infinitely, like a father. The Cooper girls were not his children.
Once, they had all lived at Chardin-all the children, that is. Long ago in the 1970s. It was called Chardin for the Omega Point, and it was Anton's dream that he could create a home that was a perfect meeting place of the human and the divine: a divine milieu, the setting for a profound and mystical vision of God. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was his preferred philosopher. He upset the Catholic Church, scaring its thinkers into thinking about his attempt to combine evolutionary theory and Christian theology in a seamless whole.
Chardin sprawled on a hill, the highest point in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, blessed with hundred-mile views and lapped by seas of green fields rolling into cornfields and forests with creeks slinking through them. And up there, there was a lot of sky with all its storms and sunshine. In the spring forsythia, magnolia, lilac, and dogwood bloomed. The house had been a hunter's cabin, added on to over the years by Anton and the architect so that wings extended from it, spokelike, sprouting glass rooms and lofts and decks. At one end of the house an indoor swimming pool steamed like the mouth of a dragon, so fiercely you could not see but an inch in front of you. Steam seeped through the cracks in the sliding doors so that that end of the house seemed alive. Anton, who was many things-a philosopher writing a treatise on love, a berry salesman, a dealer in Haitian art, a writer, a Gestalt therapist, a Texan-had wanted the indoor pool as a place to hold therapy sessions.
The architect loved him. They had big dreams for what more they would do to Chardin. Dreams involving silos, Moorish courtyards, a barn, a tower on the barn, an office from which Anton could watch the setting sun. On the roof of this office he would gather all his children and friends to read poetry in the dimming light.
"I need a small pool. Big enough to fit twenty-five people or so and it needs to get pretty hot," Anton said to the architect upon first meeting him. Standing in the architect's living room, he also asked for a whiskey though it wasn't noon. Outside, Anton's turquoise Cadillac languished in the sun, filled with kids. "Scotch," the architect said, because he only had scotch. Slim and handsome, with a quiet voice and a tendency to stroke his bearded chin, he was a precise man with a tidy mind and a tidy house, and in his world people did not drink before six. On Anton's ring finger the architect noticed an enormous turquoise ring. In his world, as well, men did not wear rings. His name was Laurence-pronounced the French way. Anton drank down the scotch and then ushered Laurence into the back of the Cadillac while all the kids crammed up front. Schoolbooks and boys' underwear were everywhere, and as Anton drove fast Laurence flopped this way, then that, picking the underwear off of him. "A pool," Anton said, looking at Laurence in the rearview mirror, "for my therapy sessions. I believe in finding ways to become un-self-conscious." And Laurence nodded and the kids carried on up front. Anton had one hand on the wheel, the other draped over the back of the seat. He piloted the car like a master, suave Texan that he was. The idea of un-self-consciousness floated like a party balloon in the back. Laurence hoped he'd get to this house alive. And he worried. He was a worrier. You could read it on his tightened face. "I don't know," Laurence kept saying, distressed because an indoor pool was never as easy as it seemed, because his beautiful wife was having an affair, because he had four teenage boys and a floundering practice in a tidy little town. "It'll be fine," Anton said into the rearview mirror-smooth Texas accent. And just the way he said it, just the way Anton held him with his eyes, made Laurence feel possibility. As if Anton's eyes opened up for him and allowed him a visit inside, the mix of enthusiasm and wickedness and faith therein beckoning Laurence, seducing Laurence-as if Anton's dreams, sliding off his lips like truth, were large enough to save him, too.
They became fast friends with their elaborate visions for Chardin. Before too long Anton was inviting Laurence to rebirthing ceremonies on the front lawn in which a person ready for rebirth crawled naked through a canal of arching bodies, teaching Laurence one more aspect of un-self-consciousness.
The steam from the pool caused the ivy to thrive. Ivy crept up the walls, nearly covering the house. It crept through some of the windows into some of the rooms, and though it looked beautiful, over the years it caused the walls to rot, the roof to leak, the pipes to crack. Its roots snaked underground and around the sewage pipes, cracking them, too, and on thick July days the faint smell of waste wafted over the yard.
"It'll be all right," Anton promised. He promised that many times over the years-when the waste backed up into the basement bathroom and overflowed onto the basement floor; when water dripped through the ceiling from the roof onto Julia's pink bedspread; when, indeed, the design for an indoor pool proved more difficult than originally thought and the wall between the pool and Jane's room turned to paste and crumbled. "It'll be all right," he promised when they couldn't afford the taxes and the IRS threatened to foreclose on the house, when cops flew low over the cornfields in helicopters to determine if grass was growing there. Grass as in pot, dope, weed, reefer, marijuana. Anton and the kids grew it back then, in the 1970s, and the cops would fly in low to inspect the fields and Anton would shout to all the kids, "The cops are coming!" His beautiful, wicked grin lit up each one of them. They'd scramble out of the house, slithering into the fields to lay waste to the plants. "The cops are coming," exhilaration in his voice and a thrill running through the kids because they knew that they would not get caught. "It's just ditch weed anyway," one kid would say. The cops would come, would circle, that's true. The loud hum of the helicopters teasing the kids as they lay in the fields against the prickly husks and the corn silk. The wind from the helicopters blew over their backs.
"It'll be all right," Anton promised with all the authority of a Texas Ranger-his sideburns curling, his blue eyes squinting, his Texas accent full. He was six generations Texas on his mama's side. The first oil well in Texas blew at Spindletop on January 10, 1901, not far from the site of his great-great-granddaddy Beaumont's farm. Beaumont had been a French trapper, trapped alligators in the bayous and swamps. In 1824 he sold his land to other trappers and farmers and they made the town of Beaumont to honor him, and the town thrived, growing rich on rice and salt and soy and even blueberries and later crawfish from the Neches River before it became an oil mecca. "If only Beaumont hadn't sold the land," Anton would tell the kids, as if great wealth and fortune were just within their grasp. His great-granddaddy was a journalist for the Corsicana Star and one of the few men in Texas who was pro-Union during the Civil War. One hundred and twenty thousand men wore the gray coats and fought for the Confederacy. Just two thousand supported the Union, and most of them were forced to leave the state. But John Darling stayed and made his opinions known. No one was going to throw him out of Texas. "It's the rich man's war and the poor man's fight," he wrote as boys were drafted to fight while slave owners were not required to enlist. Anton's granddaddy was the first in their line to leave Texas. He drove off in a convertible Pierce Arrow with the top down all the way to Hollywood to become the pharmacist to the stars. He bought a movie mogul's mansion and lived his life out there, leaving behind his Catholic-convert wife to die of a female disease and his young daughter, Emma Darling, Anton's mama, to be raised by Ursuline nuns. For the remainder of Darling's life he longed for Texas. Of Texas Texans are proud. It remains in them, the essential ingredient of who they are. That's how it was for Anton, and for the Furey and Cooper kids. Texas became a mythic spot of identity and action, of high-stakes poker where little rich boys lost their daddy's Cadillacs in a game, a country of tall tales where people talked big and lived big and the laws of life elsewhere did not exist.
On March 20, 1930, Anton was born in Corsicana; it was a cool spring morning, very early, very dark, and the air fragrant with first flowers. Winds from the east blew in quietly along with the Great Depression, and Bonnie and Clyde were on the road robbing banks, already capturing many imaginations. But the real significance of this day is that it would later be discovered to be the true birth date of Christ. At Chardin, on this occasion, there would be a celebration: champagne and waltzing and the Serape rug rolled back and toasts to Anton for sharing this with Christ, adding all the more to his power and allure. Anton, big large man that he was, loomed over all the kids-their leader, their guide. They loved him. Whatever the problem, he would say, "We'll figure it out."
"Promise?" the kids would ask. Promise like a ticket to somewhere fabulous, like an answer. Promise, rich beautiful word that it is. Promise. The oath of God to Abraham. That their futures would be safe, clear, understood. Promise like a road map, like insurance. Promise.
"I promise," he would say to them, sipping a glass of whiskey, a flute of champagne. An ascot folded softly at his neck. And they believed him-for a long, long time they believed him.
And the scent of lilac was always stronger than the smell of waste, and the cops were simply on a routine training mission, and the IRS man, all dressed in black, walking up the long driveway with a briefcase in his hand, simply needed help with a flat.
"POP?" ALICE ASKS. It is 1994. Her voice is gentle, but firm with will. She has just graduated from college and is on her way to India on a Fulbright scholarship to study Indian cinema for a year, her life about to open like a flower. "I can't leave unless you say you'll visit." She smiles, giddy with ambition to do good things, contribute herself to the world. "Aim high," her father has always told her. "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."
She wants to understand how the dreams of films-Hindu women dancing love dances on broken glass to save their lovers' lives-can lend an entire culture a bit of peace and hope. Traveling movie theaters, screens hitched to the backs of trucks, lighting up a few thousand lives in the countryside. Fairy tales are her belief; her father always taught her to believe in the possibility of the impossible, that fairyland is reasonable, indeed, is common sense.
Anton reclines in his bed, propped against a sea of white pillows. He's an old man, old before his time, aging fast now at sixty-four. Thin and unshaven and weak. His skin is gray. His hair is gray. His tongue is gray. Mysterious cramps dart through his abdomen, crippling darting cramps. Sun streams through the bedroom of windows, and outside is a spectacular late-May day with a breeze and no clouds and everything smells of lilac. The room is thick with the purple branches, the buds like tiny grapes. Alice stands at the edge of the bed, wanting his permission to go, as if permission will heal him, hold him here till she returns. She is a practical, disciplined girl, her father's opposite in many ways. He would tell her fondly that he has had to be extremely undisciplined (credit-card debts, chronic lateness, a smoker of fine Moroccan hash among other things) in order to teach her otherwise. But like her father she also has a great capacity for dreams.
She wears jeans and a T-shirt and baseball cap (her traveling outfit) beneath which is tucked her long walnut hair. She's a strong girl with an energy that makes her seem as though she is always on the verge of erupting-a toughness countered by an exquisite beauty that softens her, eliciting in others the need to protect her. A beauty that emanates aloofness and in that an alluring mystery. Determination lights her face; it's in those fierce gray eyes. Miracles blossom in front of her. Anton sees a glass wall go up, cutting her off from him. He wants to reach through the wall and grab her back. He is beginning to lose his ability to dream. Look at me wasted here, he wants to say. Her voice wraps around him, envelops him with exhilaration and the force of her will. "Say you'll come," she insists.
"Watch out for monkeys, babe," he warns, trying to prop himself up. "They're devilish little creatures. Beguiling. They are not your friends, even if they try to convince you otherwise." He squints a smile, forcing it out between his lips and the pain, a Texas half smile.
"You'll feel better again. You'll even be fat again," she reassures, though somewhere she knows she's bluffing.
That smile of his turns ironic, then hopeless, then boyish. "I was never too fat, babe," he says, accent thickening. "Just healthy." He's bluffing, too, of course. They're both bluffing. They both know, yet neither will concede. He's taught her-endless games of poker. She's sitting on a full house. Just another ace is all she needs. He wants to cheat and give her that ace.
"We'll see a lot when you come." Her eyes warm, changing colors like wet stones, and it's as if she were singing, a lark, a nightingale with the beauty of the world on her tongue. Rossignol, "nightingale" in French, the name of the petit and very dark-skinned man who married him to Eve at the Oloffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince. Eve in her cream silk standing by his side on the balcony. Pigs and chickens and schoolchildren in their uniforms racing on the streets below and the jolly painted buses lumbering along and the old women with paniers of bread balancing on their heads while the Tonton Macoutes keep guard with their AK-47s. He sees the day as if he were there. The ceiling fans move the slow-motion heat and the blessings are read and he kisses the bride. Familiar French songs drift in from far away. That night they'll attend a voodoo ceremony-women dancing wildly to the thump thump of beating drums; men decapitating chickens, painting their bodies with the blood. They'll hike through the mountains to Jacmel, make love in the open; Haitian families will invite them in for a meal, give them a mat to sleep on, a painting for a souvenir, discuss Duvalier and his cure for yaws. The Oloffson was the setting for The Comedians; he and Eve had slept in the Graham Greene suite. The romance and excitement appeared visceral in the heat.
Anton has the urge to tell this story to Alice again, but she is singing already, herself. He winces. The cramp slices through the flesh and muscle of his belly to his back, a well-sharpened knife slipping around in there. He closes his eyes and the lark sings a song colored by painkillers and the approaching dusk and he hears everything she has ever said about India...The full moon suspended over the Apollo Bunder, lighting up the whole of Bombay. Coming to him in opiated clips. That big and brilliant platinum moon, somehow closer, somehow different, more moonish, more spectacular. And the rains come and the heat lifts in a steam to reveal a woman dancing in the center of a giant lotus flower, beckoning her lover to descend from the thin air above, and he arrives tethered to a string. India is one place Anton has never been, one place Alice wants to show him. His love of adventure is a gift he has given to her. He counts the gifts now as if to read her future, glimpse the woman she will become. The gopuram of Madurai sprawling over that insane town. The country roads thick with cars and lorries and bullock carts and festivals celebrating the holy cow, and the fields afire in the evening and the whole world smelling of sugar, and herds of goats, and packs of newborn chicks, and castles, entire towns made of sand, palaces floating in desert lakes, the Ganges at night: pitch black and all the people gone and the river so quiet and big like a beast, a massive sleeping beast-Eliot's strong brown god-and the mist just lifting lightly but hanging on, eerie with the smell of coal fires and of the burning ghats. And the lotus flower closes concealing the lovers and then the petals open and the flower floats on a pond and the woman continues her intricate dance. He imagines Alice, a lark in the latticed windows of the Pink Palace of Jaipur, in the early morning hours at Chardin. How the birds sing, an entire orchestra with their elaborate odes to day. The red earth of Karnataka and the golden sands of Arabian beaches. The flute player in the smoggy streets of Calcutta, the smell of woodsmoke mixed with sunflower and jasmine and apple and orange. "Dad, please come?" she says. Let me sleep, please, babe, let me sleep here awhile. The red-faced and mean and untrustworthy monkeys swinging between the dazzling branches of the banyan trees, rising up the boulder mountain to the place where the monkey god was born.
He opens his eyes and looks at his girl behind the glass and he knows that she will leave, and though he knows it is not rational and though he knows it is not fair or just, he feels betrayed. Don't go, please, he wants to ask of her. Just sit here and let me look at you.
"Do watch out for the monkeys, babe," he says instead, because for only her is he still perfect. He wants to remain that way. "They bite. I don't want to have to come all the way to India to take care of a monkey-bitten daughter," giving her, in this, permission. He rises on the pillows. She leans down and kisses him, holds him tight and kisses him-imagining herself as a monkey-bitten daughter that her father has come to retrieve. He wants to say good-bye simple as that. Have a good time. I'll come. She is just a young girl standing before him, a child who emphatically does not want to grow up. Not yet. Not in this way.
"Don't ever be sentimental, babe. You can be romantic, but never sentimental." He gives her the Texas squint and rubs his belly as if he could massage the pain right out of it like air bubbles in bread dough. "Smoke a good joint for me. Dope's good over there," and from his wallet he gives her a hundred-dollar bill. "For good grass, babe."
She pockets the bill, stuffing it into the front pocket of her jeans as if it were a tissue, feeling light because she knows she's won this hand. "Bring everyone," she says suddenly, greedily even. "What if you all came to visit? That would be fun. Wouldn't that be fun?" She feels like her mother using that word fun. Fun is her mother's word. We will have fun. You're having fun, aren't you? Fun. Fun. Everything fun. Then she imagines them all in India, the whole clan, all eight brothers and sisters and her mother. And she does believe it would be fun and it does seem possible, a matter of logistics-that is all. Her family like a long tail extending from her, trailing after her across the vast, hot expanse of the subcontinent. Marching like a tribe. Fun. The image makes her feel powerful, as if she really did have the ability to make this family whole-perhaps her most certain and central fairy tale.
"They'd never want to come," Anton says, taking the notion seriously.
"Don't be sorry for yourself. And besides, they would," she says brightly. "You know they would."
"You really think so?" he asks, perking up with hope. Hope, like an injection. "What about the Cooper girls? They'd never come." His blue eyes droop, resigned. Sorry for himself indeed.
"That's not true. You know that. Why wouldn't they come?" But then she pauses. Dread seeps inside of her, spreading out like a stain. She sees her three Cooper sisters bickering, faces red with it, as they complain about their childhoods. She paces. Looks around, how neat the room is. Her mother's doing. Afghan folded over back of rocking chair. Books in tidy stacks. Photographs of all the kids-having fun-on all the various family trips. All the ages they have all been. For twenty-five years this family has tried to be a family. She feels tired and wants to leave. For half a year she has been planning this trip. She's spoken with a famous director; he intends to meet her-Sanjay Deep of cinema Deep fame with five hundred films to his credit. She wants to step inside a film, learn the dance, the how-to of lip-synching the songs. She wants to step inside dreams, understand them, explore them, invade them. She looks through the sliding doors to the deck, the yard, the fields, the forests, the deep and distant views of farms and silos and hills and sky. She thinks about the long trip in front of her and of how very far away it will take her from her world and she feels the exuberance of a clean slate and time.
She adjusts her baseball cap, flipping the bill to the back. She has a certain power over Jane and knows that if she convinces Jane to come then Jane will convince Julia who will convince Kate. They are woven together like fabric, inextricable threads.
Anton folds his gray hands at his belly. Very gray against the white sheets, he shuts his eyes. His lips pinch as he eats the pain. No good feeling about this has he, but he will not let her know. Go, he wants to say now. Go quickly.
"They'll come," she says. "For me." She imagines herself as a bridge, the family stepping along her spine. Determined little girl, she's been working this family together since she was pencil-size in her mother's womb, negotiating all their troubles with her extraordinary capacity to be fair. "She'll be a judge someday," her sisters and brothers predict.
Anton holds her. She is warm inside with her plan and everything becomes sweet because there is a plan and there is not yet an explanation for the crippling darting cramps and she will leave. The mystery illness is shrouded in the vast expanse of hope. Hope infused in her simple words, bright and forceful, You will come. (And the family, too!) Hope in her erect stance and her thrilling determination. Foolish hope, corrosive hope. You Will Come.
"I won't go unless you promise."
Gently he squeezes her hand, placing a light kiss on her large forehead, pulling her close, the soft same newborn smell of her as if she still fit into his palm. He sees her blown to India carried by the force of his breath, rising and sinking on its back away from him. "Promise, babe." A commitment, the authority of the Word. His nose stings. His eyes close. "I couldn't go a year without seeing you. It'll be all right."

Copyright © 2002 by Martha McPhee

All rights reserved.
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Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
The desire for love and the simple gift of it, the bonds of family and the challenges that threaten to rend them converge in this novel of an unconventional family brought together by one man's vision of a new type of community. A meditation on the limits of and the lengths we will go for love, Gorgeous Lies will to lead your book group discussions into new and intriguing territory.

At the center of this story is Anton Furey -- high-stakes gambling Texan, former Jesuit, philosopher, Gestalt therapist -- who lived a life of moderate celebrity in the 1970s for his own attempt at a Brady Bunch-like vision of a blended family in a rural utopia, Chardin. Bringing together his own five children and those of his new wife, Eve -- plus Alice, the only daughter born of both parents -- Anton must face his own failings and the realities of an experimental life. Now on his deathbed, his wife and nine children are reunited in the house where they tried desperately to create a home, and must come to terms with secrets, lies, and unique joys of living the challenge of one man's dream.

But this is not the story of the failure or success of a utopia, but rather of the people who made it come into being, and in their trials, memorable discussions will be born. The children's mixed loyalties to their new stepparents, as well as their seemingly incongruous jealous desire for the love of Anton, are issues that will be familiar to readers who are from blended families themselves.

Similarly, Anton's and Eve's own love and affection for their former spouses lend opportunities to discuss how choices about ourselves are revealed in whom we choose to love. Anton's carnal obsessions and how the people in his life cope with his numerous infidelities will raise provocative discussion among readers. Ultimately, McPhee portrays Anton's unrealized dream - his life's work - to be nothing less than a revolution in how we view sexuality. The nature of his goals (whether they are seen as laudable or misguided) will lead readers to examine our ideas about this powerful and complex aspect of human nature. More importantly, his lifelong obsession with completing his book on the subject will open readers to reflect on our needs to make our mark on the world.

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly," says Anton. Amid Gorgeous Lies's unusual triumphs and complex failures, readers will have an enriching experience exploring how we measure success -- of a family, of a vision, of a life. Elise Vogel

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. Gorgeous Lies opens with the statements: "They loved Anton. Every single one of them." How do Anton's wife, former wife, children, step-children, and others show that love? How is each person's love for Anton unique? What obstacles or contraries are there to the love each has for Anton?

2. There is a saying that "you can take the man out of the Jesuits but you can't take the Jesuits out of the man." How applicable is this saying to Anton and his life during all the years after he leaves the Jesuits? What is the role of religion and faith in Anton's life and the lives of his children and step-children?

3. What is the effect of the author's narration of events out of chronological sequence? How does McPhee influence our responses to characters and events by shifting among various levels of time, ranging from Anton's childhood to the months and years following his death? How might McPhee's storytelling technique reflect the dynamics of thought, feeling, and memory within the Furey-Cooper family?

4. What is the extent of Anton's control over the members of his family? How would you explain the power of his personality and the willingness of all family members to focus on him before themselves and their own needs? How true is the statement that "this was not, under the reign of Anton, ….a society of individuals"? How would you describe "the reign of Anton"?

5. We are told that everyone in the Furey-Cooper household "had at least one lock on his or her door" and that "all over the house, as it happened, there were keys." What is the significance of locks and keys in relation to each family member? What kinds of psychological and emotional locks does eachinstall, and what is the provenance of the "rainbow of keys" in relation to those locks? What "master key" might exist to all those locks, and who possesses that key?

6. What is the significance of the statement that long ago Agnes "had accepted and forgiven" Anton's betrayals? What instances of betrayal and of acceptance and forgiveness are there in the novel? What importance does McPhee place on forgiveness and reconciliation?

7. We are told that fairy tales are Alice's belief; "her father always taught her to believe in the possibility of the impossible." To what extent has this been Anton's primary teaching to all his children and step-children? How has belief in the possibility of the impossible influenced all their lives, including those of Anton and his wives? Under what circumstances might it be advisable or appropriate to believe in the possibility of the impossible"?

8. In his 1971 proposal for establishing "an organic community," Anton states that "we hope to grow by giving up our manipulative, dishonest game playing." To what extent does this actually happen? What instances of manipulation and "game playing" occur? To what extent does "manipulative, dishonest game playing" affect every family, and how might it be corrected?

9. How does Anton's attitude toward sex and sexuality, sexual repression, and sexual expression determine his behavior within the family? To what extent are his theories a justification for, or rationalization of, his own behavior? What do the excerpts from his notes reveal about his thinking and his attitudes?

10. As Anton approaches and then suffers through his final illness, he thinks about his still-unfinished book, with its various titles. Why do you think Anton never finishes his book? What is the significance that, in Alice's view, the book "added up to this-a few collages and crates of notes, more debris at the foot of his deathbed"? How should we understand Eve's final thoughts?-"His book was all around her. His book was here. It was him, and she defied the wind to tell her that that wasn't something."

11. Saying goodbye to her father, Alice thinks, "For twenty-five years this family has tried to be a family." In what ways has the family succeeded or failed? Why has it fallen upon Alice, the youngest, to be her family's "savior"? Why do you think it falls upon her to be the one to "kill" her father? Is her action justified? Why does Alice refer to the Anton to whom she administers the morphine as "this imposter"?

12. In what ways is the story of Anton and the Furey-Cooper family an illustration of "lives affecting effecting infecting other lives"?

13. "What is it we all want anyway?" Sophia asks, and then answers her own questions: "Love, of course. We all want love." How does McPhee present the theme of everyone's desire to be loved? What efforts are made to capture the love of others and to love others? What other desires and needs interfere with the giving and receiving of love? How does the desire to be loved differ from the desire to be needed?

14. What "gorgeous lies" characterize the life of the Furey-Cooper family over the years? When do those lies occur, and why? Why do they take on such importance? Which family members are most emphatically associated with the gorgeous lies of the novel's title? In what ways are these lies "gorgeous"?

Copyright (c) 2002. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2006

    Terrible book

    I cannot, for the life of me, understand how this book came to be one of the finalists of NBA. One word 'arrogance' describes this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2004

    Dragged on and on and on......

    I'm a bit surprised by the other reviews for this novel. I've never been so bored and unmoved by a story in all of my years of reading. Clinical emotions from mundane characters, long-winded narratives, ugh, don't bother with this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2003

    Intelligent, Beautiful and Honest

    Gorgeous Lies is a very intelligent novel. I especially loved how Mcphee portays the characters. The way the story is presented is artistic and skillful and creates a profound and moving story of a blended family in the early 1970's. I recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful literature.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2002

    such a good book u gotta read it

    this book was really good and i really liked it alot, i am only 14 but this book let me experiance some of life's lessons just by readin the book. if u are reading to get away from life ... you should definately read this book.

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