Zoe Whittall is a master at writing broody queer novels, and ever since reading Bottle Rocket Hearts, I just can’t resist them.
The description and first chapter of this might lead you to believe that it’s an action book or at least a mystery. Befriending a con artist sounds like the premise for anything from whacky hijinks to thriller territory. But while the first chapter has the main character hiding in her closet, afraid for her safety, this really isn’t a book about danger or mystery. Instead, it’s more of a character study about these people in awkward times in their lives.
After Shelby’s wife died, she couldn’t seem to find her way out of crushing grief and depression. She struggles to leave the house at all. One day, she finally works up the strength to visit a grief support group, which is where she meets Cammie. Cammie a breath of fresh air. She is energetic and adventurous, pulling Shelby out of her shell. That’s especially impressive given the long (long!) list of tragedies she’s gone through, including multiple family members’ deaths by suicide and her ongoing cancer treatment. And she always seems to find herself in bad situations at work. Shelby takes Cammie under her wing, inviting her to stay at her place. She’s happy to help her and to find something to distract from her grief.
We also get point of view chapters from Gibson, a forty-ish recently divorced man who meets Cammie at a bar and they start dating. He can’t believe this younger, attractive woman has fallen in love with him so quickly. It’s almost too good to be true—especially when she starts to demand more and more from him, guilting him if he refuses or even questions him.
When Gibson and Shelby finally meet, it’s not long before they realize that Cammie’s stories about the other are true, and that’s not the only thing she’s lying about.
I can imagine many people will find this a frustrating book, because the description basically tells you everything that happens. This is only around 200 pages, and it’s more sad than it is exciting. Shelby and Gibson are both lonely and vulnerable. Cammie is hard to pin down: is she deliberately cruel? Does she believe her own lies? We only get a little taste of her point of view in this story.
I especially liked Shelby’s struggle to decide the best way forward. Even when she’s hurt, she wants to help Cammie—but at what point do you have to cut your losses and face that this other person doesn’t want to change?
I haven’t met any con artists—that I know of!—but I think if you have had a relationship (friends, family, or romantic) with someone who is manipulative, you’ll find some uncomfortably relatable moments in the way Cammie keeps the people around her on her side—until it’s time to drop them and move on to the next marks.
The Fake isn’t a perfect fit for all readers, but if you like a glimpse into other people’s complicated psyches, though, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a slow-paced, thoughtful look at these three characters.