The Boy in the Field: A Week Without Lying

I liked the writing the best. Strange that you could have a great book without good writing, but I’m sure it’s possible. In this case the book is great because of the writing. The characters are decent: imaginative, whole, endearing. The plot is steady: a hook of a crime, but much more about character development than solving that crime. The setting relevant: the cusp of the new millennium and wandering cities and costume parties. But what really soars is the writing. Delicate phrases that arrest the reader. Specific images that evoke and deepen. Confidence that means it reads not as showy but as necessary.

Yes, The Boy in the Field is excellent writing. I might even seek out something else by Margot Livesay, as I’ve not read anything by her before, and wouldn’t have if not for the New York Times best of the year list (which I’m sure is flawed in all the ways best of lists are flawed, but nevertheless gives me ideas of what to consider).

All that said I’m not sure it’s the most memorable book. Three children find a boy bleeding in a field. The rest of the book is the slow unfolding of their characters, and that of their parents. Of what they want from life, from one another. Most interesting, maybe, is the way they approach the question of honesty. In one scene they try a week without lying and have to give it up after a few days, concluding that lying is necessary for the preservation of relationships. I suggested the experiment to S. and after expressing interest, he grew wary. What was I reading, anyway? Just a novel, I replied. Still, I’ve taken to springing questions on him out of the blue, reminding him that it is the week without lying, waiting to trip him up or to learn something revelatory. When if I paid attention to the book at all I’d know that for the most part we don’t want our loved ones to be revealed. That we all do best to wear our costumes, to keep some things well out of sight. To be truthful only if we meet the criteria of is it useful, is it necessary, is it kind.

So start 2021 with great writing. Or, you know, a good show on Netflix and a bottle of liquid cheese.

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