It was a Sunday afternoon and my friend and I were looking for a parking spot in front of a pizza joint. At the corner of the street two men were throwing books in the trach cans. It was like a scene from a movie. The two men, the giant pile of books at their feet, and the almost full recycle bins.
Being me, I was too shy to go and ask them to look at the books, so I waited them out and went to “investigate”. There were not just books, but pictures, photographs, post cards, notes… – paper traces of a life.
And then it clicked – all the other furniture and household items piled nearby. It was a post mortem cleaning. Someone had lived, collected books, photos and things – and now someone else was disposing of these “life journey souvenirs” as “unwanted”.
A scene like that gets you thinking of the value of all our belongings – how much meaning they have for us and how little to everyone else, how ephemeral life is. It reminded me of Cadence from “We were liars” and her methodical disposal of personal items.
“We were liars” traces the story of the seventeen years old Cadence, as she tries to piece back the events of one of the last summer she spend at her family’s privet island, near Martha’s Vineyard.
Cadence Sinclair comes from a wealthy family – “We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive”. But the Sinclair clan is far from perfect, as not immuned to divorces, heart break, death, sorrow and sickness. But as the old saying goes “Tears taste better with “Crystal”.
“The jolt of a new purchase makes Mummy feel powerful, if only for a moment.”
This is a book about the changes we make around us to make us feel better. The stuff we buy for temporary joy. The way we hide our wounds beneath shining jewellery, our bruises with designer clothes and our broken homes with beautiful paintings.
“That woman buys thing just to buy things. It’s disgusting.”
Repulsed with her mother’s compulsive buying and the glamorous clutter that surrounds her, she takes a step towards liberating herself of everything she owns.
“I am giving away my things,” I say. “Since September. Remember I sent you the stripy scarf?”“Oh, yeah.” – I tell about giving the things to people who can use them, finding the right homes for them. I talk about charity and questioning Mummy’s materialism.I want Johnny and Mirren to understand me. I am not someone to pity, with an unstable mind and weird pain syndromes. I am taking charge of my life. I live according to my principles. I take action and make sacrifices.“You don’t, I dunno, want to own stuff?” Johnny asks me.”
Cadence’s head is a crowded place – filled with pain and confusion. Standing in the middle of a petty feud for the family fortune between her mother and aunts, watching her grandfather fade away, she is left with no breathing space. In a way, by clearing up the clutter in her life, she hopes to gain a piece of mind, so that she could finally find out what happened in her fifteenth summer at the island.
“We were liars” is an eulogy for a friendship, love and the death of a family.
The plot structure reminded me of “When Marnie was there” by Joan G. Robinson. You’ll understand the story only if you get to the end, and then… you’ll start the book again.
P.S.: I realized, I never told you what happened to that man’s belongings.
For safe keeping: tree pictures and a post card.
As we were looking around, a man came, gathered the books and the papers – said they are going for/to recycling. The bed, the table, the chairs stood there to be taken away by the garbage truck.
But some things survived:
a picture of kids in Cuba, taken in 1984, another of a young woman standing in front of a hotel, holding a book, a landscape of an empty highway and a post card – five daisies as a celebration of the first day of spring, dated 1986.
I like to think that I saved them and now they have a better home. Just like Cadence’s old things.
I clipped them in my diary.
Now the notebook that means the world to me, and nothing to the world, shelters these “useless” pictures, taken in distant lands before I was even born, by someone I will never meet.
And if that’s not ironic…