“You are diagnosed as bipolar with rapid cycling and occasional psychotic episodes,” novelist Rob Roberge is told early in his memoir, Liar. Roberge’s fiction, including the novels More than They Could Chew, and The Cost of Living, and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, have dealt with depression, addiction, and darkness before, but this time readers are given a searing inside look at the life of a complex and talented man. Roberge is a college professor, plays in a successful band, and helps support his wife who suffers from debilitating pain. However, he is also a recovering drug addict who struggles with mental illness, has strained relationships with nearly everyone, and is terrified of being alone. At turns while reading his memoir you will find yourself wondering how he is still alive, whether everything he chronicles actually happened, and what will happen next.
The second-person narration in Liar gives readers little option but to explore up close what it must to be like to live in Roberge’s shoes. Instead of presenting his story in chronological order, as many memoirs do, everything is recounted in correlating snippets, further underscoring the author’s chaotic thought processes and frequent roller coaster of emotions. Add in drugs, sex, rock ’n’ roll, a stint in jail with Paul Reubens, and AA meetings, and Roberge has created a perfect storm of self destruction meshed with self exploration. Liar isn’t an easy memoir to read, and readers are spared very little, but coping with mental illness or addiction isn’t easy either. Roberge’s fearless look at a life that spirals out of control is all the more compelling because of his unflinching attention to detail.
“Using addicts know how they’re going to feel in five minutes,” Roberge writes. “Mental illness, on the other hand, is the ultimate loss of control.” As he grapples with the prediction that he will lose his memory as a result of the multiple concussions he has suffered, or that his body may not hold up to the years of abuse he has subjected it to, readers will in turn appreciate the dark humor and warped view Roberge brings to things like his hoarder grandmother and his many failed relationships. Along the way there are events that the reader will question (did he really wake up hungover in Canada?), and there are moments that the author himself questions, which raises interesting questions about the art of storytelling and truth. How can we believe memory? Do our pasts dictate our futures? Can we really rise above our mistakes? More than anything, during the thrilling twists and turns (and highs, and lows) of Liar, readers are given the opportunity to take stock of themselves and their own histories.
For a book that deals with so much trauma, Liar is beautifully written and thoughtful. It is a challenging memoir to read, but that is part of its indelible power.
Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 24, 2016.