The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story

Image of The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story
Release Date: 
May 7, 2019
Sandra Jonas Publishing House
Reviewed by: 

“David's eventual self-transformation as he rises above his upbringing makes for an empowering memoir.”

For fans of Tara Westover's Educated, The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story is a disturbing yet captivating memoir of how one man's psychopathic delusions can imprison an entire family.

David Crow introduces us to his father, Thurston Crow, with a gripping opening line: I was three and a half the first time my dad told me we had to get rid of my mother.

The implied violence, hatred, and narcissism embodied in those words is compelling but represents only the faintest hint of the pressure-cooker of a household that David and his siblings inhabit.

Not only is there Thurston, a self-proclaimed multiple murderer who served time in San Quentin and who uses his children as proxies in his violent schemes, but there's also their mother, Thelma Lou, whose own mental health issues leave her and her children vulnerable to Thurston and his rages.

As Crow writes, describing his father preparing to beat him with a belt at his mother's urging, "as if they were following a script, Mom's tears disappeared, and she beamed. Suddenly she had become important to him. It was the only power she had."

Thurston calls himself a full-blood Cherokee and uses this racial heritage to justify anything he wants from stealing to picking fights to tying his three-year-old son to a tree and leaving him there all day in the name of teaching him to be a "warrior." David grows up wild, constantly running away from the family's home on the Navajo reservation, and as he becomes older, he and his brother indulge themselves in escalating "pranks" on adults—including life-threatening incidents such as rolling a tractor tire into traffic at a busy intersection causing several cars to crash—as the only way to gain their father's approval.

Their father, in return, trains David in criminal tradecraft, involving him in petty theft, armed robberies, escalating schemes of revenge, and ultimately, murder. He teaches David that "Murder is the easiest crime to get away with because you have no witnesses."

Despite this, David manages to graduate high school and fight his way through college, distancing himself from his father until a final, harrowing act of revenge brings them back together.

The Pale-Faced Lie is disturbing on many levels, to the point where, despite its compelling narrative, it becomes difficult to read. The violence, especially as seen through a child's eyes, can be overwhelming, making the reader feel more like a voyeur and less like an audience searching for entertainment. Thankfully, Crow's naturally self-effacing humor helps to soften these blows, and David's eventual self-transformation as he rises above his upbringing makes for an empowering memoir.