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.
1. The novel begins with a passage from T.S. Eliot's collection
"Four Quartets": Time present and time past / Are both perhaps
present in time future, / And time future contained in time
past." Throughout the book, and in the very last scene, more
passages from Eliot's collection are quoted. What do these passages
convey about the way the past keeps affecting the present in this
2. Effie, now in middle age, is feeling independent and
self-sufficient. Would she be better off without J.C., or is their
relationship worthwhile despite his dishonesty?
3. This book's title seems to point to a divide in gender power.
Effie is focused on the men in her life who lie to her, but what
effect have the women who lie in this novel had on those around
4. Are any of J.C.'s lies to Effie about his personal history
5. After half a lifetime of disappointing and failed
relationships, Effie thinks there's something different about J.C.,
and she takes a chance on him. What is it about J.C. that makes her
think he will be different from the other men in her life?
6. When Sextus offers Effie the memoir he has written, which
includes very personal details about both of their lives, she hides
it away in a drawer for a long time without reading it. What do you
think she's afraid of finding in that manuscript?
7. After meeting Sam, the Canadian convict on death row, J.C.
becomes intent on hearing his side of the story, and allowing Sam
the only form of autonomy left within his reach - the power to tell
his story to the media. J.C. then tells Effie that he's working on
a book about impotence. What is it about this story and this
subject that captivates J.C. so completely?
8. Effie has a long history in Cape Breton, but most of her life
is now lived in Toronto. Did you feel the two different settings
affected her behaviour from one place to the other?
9. Paul, the man Effie meets in the coffee shop, turns out to be
an unwanted presence who won't leave her alone. One day, he breaks
into Effie's home and steals the unread memoir written by Sextus,
but nothing else. Why do you think Paul is so obsessed with Effie,
whom he barely even knows?
10. It seems like all of the men in Effie's life have
disappointed her - all except for Conor, who died while they were
still in a relationship. How do you think that loss impacted
11. Conor says to Effie, "Love and friendship are only
temporary absences from solitude. Sunny days. You can't keep
sunshine in a jar" (p. 139). Do you agree with this statement?
Why or why not?
12. In the book's acknowledgements, Linden MacIntyre writes that
growing up in a household full of women, and working with many
intelligent female journalists, is what gave him the insight to
write this novel from a woman's perspective. Do you think he was
successful in writing from the female point of view?
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