My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I used to be a compulsive liar.
When I was young, I would lie all the time – to my parents, to my teachers, to my siblings, to my friends. Whenever I was asked a question I didn’t know the answer to, I’d just make one up. I once told my little brother that they made a cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face after he died and then shrank it with that machine from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and used it as the mold for the modern penny. Hey, he’s the one who believed me.
It wasn’t until I hit high school that I became a Christian and my conscience caught up to my tongue. That was around when I started to value integrity more than getting away with stuff.
But I think my secret past as a liar is what helps me to identify with the main character of Barry Lyndon. We both grew up poor, we both wanted to make a better life for ourselves, and we both had no qualms about telling lies if it meant getting us one step closer to our goal.
One of my favorite things about this book was that it was told from a liar’s point of view, so you really have to read between the lines. But Thackeray leaves just enough meat on the bones so that we can imagine what the animal originally looked like before it was flayed by Barry’s embellishments.
It’s a highly entertaining rag-to-riches-to-rags story, but there’s an undertone of pathos to it. In spite of his high-spirited style of storytelling, there are places where his happy-go-lucky veneer wears thin and the reader can see the desperation underneath that drives Barry to do all the crazy things he does. He wants to be comfortable, loved, and, above all, respected.
But his machinations get steadily darker and more desperate until all we can do is pity and maybe even despise him for what he’s allowed himself to become by the end of the novel.
After looking at what’s under that veneer, it’s hard to laugh at his antics.
The moral of the story: don’t lie, kids.
In a slightly related story, my fobby Korean boss was recently telling me not to believe a tenant who claimed that his rent check was in the mail.
“He always lie, Jenny,” he said. The girl who worked here before me was named Jenny. I’ve been working here six months and they still call me Jenny all the time.
“He say he send check, but he don’t, Jenny,” he continued.
“So he’s a lying liar who lies,” I offered.
“Yes,” he agreed, shaking his head disapprovingly. “His pents is on fire.”
That made me laugh.