This latest novel from Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Linden MacIntyre, Why Men Lie, offers a moving and emotionally complex conclusion to the Cape Breton trilogy.
Two years after the events of The Bishop’s Man, we’re introduced to Effie MacAskill Gillis, sister of the troubled priest Duncan. It’s 1997, and Effie is an independent, middle-aged woman working as a tenured professor of Celtic Studies, but her complicated and often disappointing love life has left her all but ready to give up on the opposite sex. Then suddenly, a chance encounter with a man on a Toronto subway platform gives Effie renewed hope. J.C. Campbell is an old friend she hasn’t seen for more than 20 years – an attractive, single man who appears to possess the stability and good sense she longs for.
Effie met her last husband, Sextus, in her hometown of Cape Breton when the two were still children. As they grew older together, and started a family, she soon learned that when it came to other women, Sextus couldn’t be trusted. After one too many betrayals, Effie leaves him behind, and so when she and J.C. seem to hit it off, his relaxed, open demeanour is a welcome change.
But after a happy start to their relationship, cracks begin to show, and J.C. proves himself to be just as unpredictable as the others: one evening Effie spots him in a seedy part of town, but he denies ever having left his house; when she notices a scratch below his eye, he lies about its cause, blaming it on the cat. Then J.C., a journalist, becomes unhealthily engrossed in a story involving a convict on death row, and he and Effie begin to drift apart.
Although he still checks in sporadically and insists there’s nothing going on, she soon learns he has a deeply personal reason for his covert trips to that seedy downtown street. In fact, it turns out there’s a lot about his past that Effie doesn’t know, and a lot he’s still learning himself.
While J.C. is busy chasing his own past, Effie is rarely able to escape her own. Family ties and hometown connections to Cape Breton mean her two ex-husbands – Sextus happens to be the cousin of her first husband, John – are constantly coming and going in a turbulent mess of comfort and commotion, while her grown daughter, Cassie, brings some unexpected news of her own.
After all of her experience in relationships with men, Effie thought she knew all she needed to about what to expect, and how to maintain her self-sufficiency. Why do men lie?, she wants to know. But whether it’s for love, for protection, or for more selfish reasons, Effie soon learns that no amount of experience can prepare you for what might resurface from the past, and for the damage that might cause, emotionally or otherwise.