I feel a little like I got tricked into reading Malone’s A Field Guide to Deception. I downloaded a ton of books to my eReader, started one, started another, and then finally got sucked in by Malone’s beautiful prose. It really is such a pleasure to read a well-written book; it can even get a genre-fiction devotee like myself to sit down a read a novel about normal people living everyday lives.
The novel is about people, as they make good and bad decisions, and how those affect their lives. Claire, a young single mother of a stunningly intelligent child, Simon, hires a contractor, Liv to work on some projects around her house. Claire is still reeling from the loss of her aunt, with whom she lived and worked. Liv, a tough, secretive, taciturn woman with multiple chips on her shoulder, is quickly undone by Simon’s warmth and openness, and the two women sort of fight their way into a relationship. Liv’s friend Bailey, harboring the kind of unrequited love for Liv that borders on nasty, becomes the third part of the story, and then halfway through we (and Bailey) meets Drake, turning the romantic triangle into a square, if you will.
Over the course of the story, Liv and Claire get together, fight, come apart, and rebond. Bailey and Liv’s fractious friendship follows the same path. Even Bailey and Claire become close, hurt each other, pull apart only to make it work again. Compared to all the verbal and physical abuse the three put each other through, Drake remains rather flat, actually. At one point in the story, Claire makes Bailey a financial offer that she pretty much can’t refuse, and in the shock of Claire’s terrible largess, Bailey accuses her of being a monster. And it was like the entire book crystalized to one discernable point, and I completely agreed! Claire’s generosity, following every detail of the plot to that point was monstrous, and yet also incredibly understandable. This is a novel in which no character, except maybe Simon since he is a child, is easily likable all the time. They all make selfish, bad decisions, but the beauty of the novel is that they are always very human choices. Malone masterfully presents people as they are– sometimes great, sometimes heart-rendingly awful.
Unfortunately, the last fourth of the book takes a bad turn, plot and character-wise. There is ominous foreshadowing, everyone is suddenly very obtuse and lacking in sensitivity, and a very minor, unimportant character comes in out of nowhere to become central to the story. Followed by a weird epilogue that kind of goes nowhere. It didn’t ruin the book, for me, but it came close.