Lies You Wanted to Hear

Lies You Wanted to Hear

3.5 17
by James Whitfield Thomson

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Alone in an empty house, Lucy tries to imagine the lives of her two young children. They have been gone for seven years, and she is tormented by the role she played in that heartbreaking loss. You can hardly see a glimpse of the sexy, edgy woman she used to be. Back then, she was a magnet for men like Matt, who loved her beyond reason, and Griffin, who wouldn't let

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Alone in an empty house, Lucy tries to imagine the lives of her two young children. They have been gone for seven years, and she is tormented by the role she played in that heartbreaking loss. You can hardly see a glimpse of the sexy, edgy woman she used to be. Back then, she was a magnet for men like Matt, who loved her beyond reason, and Griffin, who wouldn't let go but always left her wanting more. Now the lies they told and the choices they made have come to haunt all three of them.

With shattering turns, Lies You Wanted to Hear explores the way good people talk themselves into doing terrible, unthinkable things. What happens when we come to believe our own lies? And what price must we pay for our mistakes?

A searing story that will leave you wondering what choices you would make, Lies You Wanted to Hear is a stunning debut.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This debut novel by Boston author Thomson concerns a divorced father who kidnaps his two young children from their mother, whom he perceives to be unfit to raise them. During the late 1970s, Boston cop Matt Drobyshev, 28, is set up by his colleague’s wife on a blind date with her oldest friend, Lucy Thornhill, a young woman with “an edge” from a well-to-do family. Lucy had an abortion, after which the father, Griffin Chandler, decided to leave town “to get his head together.” While she finds Matt “forthright” and “congenial,” she is still in love with the irresponsible Griffin. Despite Matt disapproving of her pot smoking, he falls in love with and marries the ambivalent Lucy. They have two children before Lucy’s continued drug use and affairs with Griffin derail the marriage. The Drobyshevs’ divorce turns acrimonious when Matt fails to gain full custody of the kids. He uses a Disney World trip as a cover story for vanishing with them. Matt assigns them new identities and lies to his kids about their mother before they take up a fugitive lifestyle. As time passes, the reader’s sympathies align more with Lucy, who is left heartsick over the loss of her kids, in Thomson’s well-told narrative of complex characters and their troubled families. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"[A] well-told narrative of complex characters and their troubled families"" - Publishers Weekly

"[An] effective debut ... Thomson lays out the moral complexities underlying acrimonious divorces, taking care to make each side credible." - Booklist

"Quite an achievement ... confident and eminently readable" - New York Journal of Books

"A spellbinding stunner of a debut ... Lies You Wanted to Hear is a novel of intensely lifelike characters and chilling choices and consequences that is utterly satisfying from start to finish.
" - Redbook Magazine

"A remarkable, readable novel that's sure to provoke animated debate" - Portland Daily Sun

"An unequal attraction has devastating repercussions in this delightful, assured debut novel" - People

"A great piece of fiction. ... The book is filled with such tart takes on the human condition, along with more gentle illuminating moments. It has a sense of fullness and urgency that perhaps only a 67-year-old first time writer can impart." - Concord Monitor

"A haunting piece of fiction ... Whitfield Thomson's anguishing tale is told so thoughtfully that it leaves readers in the unusual place of trying to determine right from wrong" - Shelf Awareness

"Thomson poignantly depicts [his characters'] humanity and readers cannot help but feel empathetic." - The Brooklyn Eagle

"Impossible to put down, this is the book club read of the year" - Bloggers Recommend

"An engrossing read about complicated characters whose decisions cause us to ponder the many degrees between right and wrong" - Book Reporter

"A compelling story of a recognizable but flawed couple, bound by bad choices and devotion to their children that explores the consequences of their of self-deceptions with insight" - Associated Press

"Hard to believe Thomson is a first time author, given the achievement of this novel. Compulsively readable and stunningly written, Lies You Wanted to Hear shows how the tiniest fissure in a relationship might become a canyon. Do we get what we deserve in a relationship? Can we ever receive what we truly need from the people we love? I'm still not entirely convinced that these characters are fictional; that's how much they lived and breathed on the page." - Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Lone Wolf and The Storyteller

"The searing tale of a wife and mother, a husband and father, both of whom are - like the rest of us - flawed, their animosity for one another only outweighed by their deep and abiding love for their children. No spouse or parent who picks up this book will be able to put it down. Nor will anyone else." - Andre Dubus III, NYT bestselling author of Townie and House of Sand and Fog

"A gripping debut....a morally complex and thoroughly grown-up novel. " - Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Library Journal
Lucy and Matt are an unlikely couple. She's a self-absorbed trust-fund baby with a predilection for bad boys; he's a blue-collar, good-guy cop who believes in following the rules. Set up on a blind date, they stumble their way into marriage. Two children later, Lucy spirals back into a destructive relationship with an ex-lover. Matt, in turn, falls into paranoia, convincing himself that Lucy is a danger to her children and that he must take drastic actions to save them. Telling their story in alternating chapters moving back and forth in time, Lucy and Matt share with the reader the truths they never told each other. VERDICT This first novel by an author who studied with the late Andre Dubus slowly builds momentum, ending with a satisfying twist on the theme of why good love can go bad and what redemption can cost.—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC
Kirkus Reviews
First-time novelist Thomson explores the excruciating pain of a marriage gone wrong in this dreary tale stretched out over two decades. In the summer of 1977, two Bostonians are set up on a blind date: Lucy Thornhill, a sensual, free spirit from a privileged background, and Matt Drobyshev, a straight-arrow policeman who grapples with a volatile temper. On the rebound from a passionate fling with the noncommittal Griffin, Lucy feels drawn to the handsome, steady Matt; soon, she and the smitten cop glide effortlessly into marriage and a quiet domestic life in Jamaica Plain. After the births of her two children, Lucy is struggling with postpartum depression and drug use when Griffin reappears, potently seductive. Furious over his wife's affair, Matt pushes for a divorce and sole custody of Sarah and Nathan but is thwarted by the exigencies of family law, which favor the mother. Fearful for his children's safety, he abducts them; under new aliases, they hopscotch across the country before settling in Southern California. Sara and Elliot, as they're now known, grow up in a stable, loving one-parent household, well-adjusted students that believe their mother perished in a house fire when they were toddlers. Elliot eventually enrolls in a music college in Boston, where he stumbles upon Lucy, a divorcee who's never given up hope that she'd see her children again. Thomson writes in clear if pedestrian prose, shifting between Lucy and Matt, but unfortunately, the novel never transcends the dour particulars of its own he said, she said storytelling. As Lucy notes, Matt "was always so sure of himself as a father....I loved my children beyond measure, but I had a hard time finding my rhythm with them, as if mothering were a dance and I had to keep looking down at my feet." Relentlessly grim melodrama, in the vein of Ordinary People and Kramer vs. Kramer.

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Read an Excerpt


New York City-January 1990

"I hate flying," the woman in the seat next to Lucy says.

"Me too," Lucy agrees, though it isn't true. She never worries about her plane crashing, not with all the human failings that tear lives apart.

As the plane starts down the runway, the woman whimpers and crosses herself, and Lucy reaches out and takes her hand. When they are safely aloft, the pilot making a slow, gentle turn northward, Lucy lets go.

"Thank you," the woman says. "I'm going to visit my daughter in New Hampshire and missed my connection. I didn't want to fly in this weather, but..." She shudders and gives herself a hug.

Lucy nods but doesn't respond. She is on her way home after three days at the midwinter conference of the American Library Association. She'd been hoping to catch the five o'clock shuttle to Boston but got stuck in traffic and ended up on the six; then the plane sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour waiting to take off and had to go back to the gate for deicing. If she's lucky, she'll be on the ground by eight.

The woman takes a sky blue ball of yarn from a canvas bag and goes to work, her knitting needles pecking like a pair of hungry birds. She's about fifty, wearing a purple sweat suit and matching reading glasses.

"I'm going as fast as I can," she says as she notices Lucy watching her. "But I don't think I'll finish it on time."

"What are you knitting?"

"A sweater for my new grandson. My fourth. No girls yet."

"Come on, you're not old enough to have grandkids."

"I got started early." The woman rolls her eyes. "Way too early. What about you? Do you have children?"

"Two," Lucy says. "A boy and a girl. Today's my son's birthday."

"Wonderful. How old?"


"Oh, that's a great age. Same as my grandson Conor." She wants to tell Lucy all about him and the other boys-long stories about their antics, one already a junior hockey star-and Lucy is grateful there are no more questions about herself.

When they land, the woman thanks Lucy for listening. Then she looks at her watch and says, "At least you'll be home in time to see your son blow out the candles."

Lucy smiles, trying to imagine what a joy that would be.


The taxi driver lets Lucy out at Le Lapin Vert, a little bistro on Centre Street a few blocks from her house in Jamaica Plain. She sits in the back with her suitcase under the table and orders escargots and a glass of chardonnay. There's a map of France printed on the paper place mats. In the summer she likes to rent a car and explore the French countryside. She keeps to the back roads, no plans or reservations. The taste of the escargots brings back memories of a restaurant in Venasque, a late dinner where she was the only patron, the chef joining her afterward for a cigarette and a glass of wine. Lucy studies the map on the place mat and conjures up images from her travels: the wild horses of the Carmargue, the cave paintings at Les Eyzies, the brightly colored anchovy boats at Collioure. She'd like to buy a cottage in St. Benoit someday and plant a small vegetable garden, go to the abbey every evening and listen to the monks chant vespers in the ancient crypt.

A handsome man in an Irish fisherman sweater smiles at her on his way to the men's room, as if they share a secret past. Lucy puts some money on the table and leaves without waiting for the check.

When she gets home, Frodo and Sam are asleep on the couch. Frodo yawns and tries to shake himself awake while Sam curls up against the light.

"Some watchdog you are," Lucy says as Frodo comes over and wags his tail. He looks like a cross between a boxer and a corgi: reddish-brown coat, short legs and a blunt snout, one bent ear, a tail that sticks straight up. When a man at the dog park asked what breed he was, Lucy laughed and said, Albanian goatherd.

Frodo goes to the back door, and Lucy lets him out into the yard. She takes off her heels and puts on a pair of slippers, checks the thermostat and turns up the heat. Sam comes into the kitchen and meows, and Lucy puts some fresh kibble in his bowl. The messages on the answering machine are from her mother and Jill and Carla-one melancholy, one anxious, one offhand-each in her own way acknowledging what day it is, but none of them willing to come out and say it. The mail is nothing but solicitations and bills. Lucy pours a glass of wine, then goes to the study and sits at her desk, its walnut surface scarred with nicks and glass rings and one long burn from a cigarette ash that could have set the whole house on fire. In the lower left-hand drawer, there's a stack of leather-bound journals.

She takes out the one on top and opens it to the place marked by the thin red ribbon attached to the binding. For several years she wrote almost every day; now weeks go by without a word, her anger and sorrow shriveled to a hard kernel stuck permanently in the back of her throat. She smooths the journal open with the heel of her hand and does the math quickly on a slip of scrap paper, feeling guilty that she cannot recall the numbers instantly and recite them down to the minute. She writes with a fountain pen; there is something comforting in the permanence of the blue-black ink soaking into the page.

1-25-90 (6 years, 7 months & 15 days gone) Happy birthday, Nathan. Nine years old today! That is so hard to believe. I can almost see you laughing, a shock of dark brown hair falling across your forehead, your grown-up teeth still too big for your face. Did you have a party after school today or will you have to wait till the weekend? An afternoon of sledding on a snowy hillside (no girls allowed), hot chocolate and cake afterward, wet socks and gloves drying by the fire? Or will it be a picnic on a sunny beach, you and your pals playing Wiffle ball and riding your boogie boards in the surf? Is there a special present you're hoping to get? A Game Boy? Baseball mitt? One of those flashy dirt bikes with a banana seat? I remember the day I turned nine. My grandmother took me to the Plaza for tea. I wanted to live there like Eloise and play tricks on the staff. Do you remember Eloise? That was Sarah's favorite book. Yours was Goodnight Moon. You were only two, but you knew every word by heart. You liked to snuggle up close to me at bedtime and pretend you were reading. That was always my favorite part of the day.

Sam jumps up on the desk and nuzzles Lucy's hand. She looks at her watch. 9:53. She goes to the kitchen and refills her wineglass, doesn't bother to turn off the light in the study before she heads upstairs. On the bookshelf in the hall, she finds Eloise and Goodnight Moon. The copper washtub on the hearth in her bedroom is empty, no kindling or wood for a fire.

Lucy crawls under the covers in her clothes while Sam nestles beside her, purring and kneading. She opens a book and reads aloud. "In the great green room there was a telephone..." As the bunny is saying good night to the socks, Lucy hears Frodo barking in the yard. She groans and pulls the cocoon of blankets up around her neck.


The cat cocks his ears and blinks at Lucy.

"Can you go down and let him in?" She scratches Sam under the chin. "Please, baby, go down and get him. I'm all tapped out tonight."

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