A Hundred Little Lies is an absorbing historical debut. This is an author I’ll keep an eye out for what they do next. The story is an easy day in the life narrative in the first person told by Jack. His bias colors the story and as the plot progresses the reader realizes that Jack may or may not be telling the truth. He’s built his life on lies so it’s difficult to tease out the truth from those lies, even within the context of the story. Thus sometimes the story assumes the reader knows more than they actually do and numerous important details are late in coming or omitted entirely. This is the weakest part of an otherwise engrossing and satisfying story.
The story opens up with a foreshadowing dream featuring Jack’s dead wife. This dream sequence feels disjointed and lacking crucial information, a theme that often repeats throughout the story. Gradually we learn that Jack is worried about a high stakes poker tournament to be held in town, although the reasons for Jack’s fear are slowly teased out. Eventually Jack’s old lover comes to town and the two waste no time picking things up again. The reasons for their break are again somewhat hazy and slow in coming. This is my main problem with the story in that so much information is vague and often missing.
Eventually details are offered but they tend to be after the fact. For example there are numerous scenes where the entire dialogue revolves around an unnamed man and only after the conversation is the reader told who they were talking about. This pattern is repeated with conversations, actions, and decisions. In some cases this makes for a more effective scene, such as Jack with the gun near the end of the novel. Yet in most other instances the story is vague and disconcerting. You’re left trying to figure out meanings without the right information. I’m not sure if it’s because the author knew all of that background and failed to convey the same to the readers or if it was a deliberate choice to keep the answers mysterious.
Other than this problem the story is actually satisfying and interesting to read. The level of detail is pretty minute as Jack narrates day to day activities such as waking up, stretching, using the outhouse, cooking, working, and basically living their lives. Yet Jack’s voice keeps these activities interesting and without the dull patina of boredom they could otherwise evoke. Part of this is helped by the plethora of secondary characters which add depth and charm to the setting. The historical feel is well incorporated, always present without needing to be endlessly described and referenced. It feels genuine and authentic, which is nicely juxtaposed to the slow exposure of all Jack’s lies.
Due to all the lies and acknowledgement of half truths, I still didn’t have a real feel for Jack by the end of the novel. He and Tom fit well together and are nicely developed but they both seem barely touched, as if they possess considerable more complexity than there was room to delve into. Yet I liked them both quite a bit and their relationship together works well. It’s not all graphic sex all the time and that makes for a nice pairing. They offer companionship, history, and love. The only jarring character of the group is the little girl, Jack’s daughter. Abigail feels disingenuous with her strange vocabulary and habit of being carried around everywhere as an eight year old. Her speech, actions, and behaviors all depict a much, much younger child than the age she’s given and often disrupts scenes instead of adding a down home charm. In fact I often found her annoying and liked just about any scene much better when she wasn’t involved.
The writing has a definite style that I’ve not really come across before. The prose and structure can be awkward and formal, not necessarily in a bad way but in a disjointed and somewhat clunky way. This definitely kept my attention on the story and since the story is Jack’s almost diary, perhaps is a way of highlighting his manner of speaking. I’d be curious if the next book is written with the same structure or something more modern. Either way A Hundred Little Lies is an interesting and satisfying western. It incorporates many of the standard elements but in a new way that makes this definitely worth reading. Not all the problems brought up are resolved unfortunately but the story is an easy one to recommend.