Depth of Lies
". . . something altogether different."
Good writers are junk ball pitchers. They set you up with fast balls just off the plate and strike you out with curve balls. That’s how Robert Frost convinces you that he’s writing about The Road Taken even though the title of his poem is The Road Not Taken. That’s how Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man becomes the first visible black person many Americans ever see. That how Dave Egger’s pinot noir sipping RV driver Josie becomes one of the Heroes of the Frontier. Irony.
And that’s why E. C. Diskin’s new mystery novel Depth of Lies is really about the truth; she’s got you leaning over the plate, and now she’s busting you up and in. Just when you’re settled in the corner of the couch with that glass of wine and a delicious new whodunit, she lets you know that she is up to something altogether different just as she was in her last novel, Broken Grace. She’s up to literature.
The characters in Depth of Lies are named things like Kat, Shea, Tori, and Ryan. They are young and beautiful “like Sharon Stone,” and members of a set of young and beautiful couples who are breezily fatuous and successfully superficial until one of them turns up dead in a hotel bathtub far from home. How and why she got there is the engine that drives this story and the loose thread that unravels all the characters’ lives.
We see the story through the eyes of Kat, the last to join the group and the first to leave it when her career takes her to Texas. It is natural to think that she is therefore the least secure member until we meet all the rest and discover one by one that each is hiding secrets (infidelities, addictions, lost jobs, bad marriages, broken hearts, lonely hearts, forsaken dreams) and that each thinks that she is the outsider, the reject, the misfit and that is of course what we all feel and fear.
As we dissect each of the character’s relationships, we are reminded of the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Or maybe more to the point, Chinua Achebe by way of William Butler Yeats: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Indeed, in many ways Depth of Lies is about the anarchy of the human heart that underlies the neatly mowed, fastidiously kept lawns of our lives.
The couples in Depth of Lies live in a fictional Chicago suburb called Maple Park. (Diskin lives in Oak Park and grew up in nearby Lake Forest. Is she writing about herself?) Very fictional, in the way that all our lives are make believe, self-serving narratives.
The trick in Depth of Lies is that we are never sure what the characters really believe, but if we read carefully, we are of what Diskin believes because she tells us.
At the same time she is very subtle because she likes the people she is writing about, she empathizes with them, she understands them, and she may be admitting that she is one of them.
She hints at this here: “Leigh and Stephen . . . had conspired to gather years of bad photos—unintended double chins, red eyes, falls, and fails, rejects that would never be shared with the online world—and presented a picture book to Ryan and Shea, entitled The Real Walkers. Every photo brought laughter. . . .” The Real Walkers, by the way, might well have been the title of this book perhaps in the sense of walking the walk and talking the talk.
By the end of the story Diskin expands the metaphor but is no longer hinting. In this passage that recalls John Cheever and is worthy of Leo Tolstoy himself, she describes poster board photos on display at the funeral of one of the characters. “They were the best shots, the thin shots, the good smiles, the better sides—just like the fiction of reality TV—edited and shaped and framed in the way people wanted to be seen.”
So do read Depth of Lies, but don’t read it as an escape; it is a trap. Like all genuine literature, it’s about you.