I must admit I was unfamiliar with Chad Kultgen. His previous and first novel The Average American Male seemed to be well-received and when browsing the bookstore, I stumbled on his second title, The Lie. Intrigued by the blurbs by the novel’s characters on the back cover, I bought it.
The novel is an oversimplified examination of life in college and written in first person, told through alternating viewpoints of the three main characters. There is Kyle, the optimistic medical student looking for love. There is Heather, the selfish sorority girl craving a man who will bring her wealth and status. And Brett, the rich playboy with a sadistic streak and an abhorrent view of women.
There is very little story here. The long and short of it is that Heather hopes to land Brett but settles for his best friend Kyle, thinking that proximity to Brett may help her chances. Kyle falls in love fast and hard and Heather sort of falls for him too. The “lie” of the book’s title is an engagement ring that turns out to be a Cubic Zirconia. Heather is enraged, Kyle is crushed and he concocts a special form of revenge.
Kyle starts off as sweet and perhaps a little naive. He doesn’t have a world view that is tainted the way his best friend Brett’s is. One of the fundamental flaws of the novel is that one finds it difficult to believe that Kyle would have a best friend such as Brett. Brett is so disgusting and disturbed, so perverse and infantile. He has an unmatched amorality and a gross sense of entitlement. His core belief is that women are whores who want nothing more than what his money can offer. That they will repeatedly debase themselves in outrageous sexual scenarios. And that they will do so for the mere and minuscule chance that he will choose them to be a girlfriend or wife.
Moreover, the most shocking thing about this story is that every female character will succumb to Brett’s perverse whims. They perform whatever elaborate or disgusting sexual act that Brett demands. No woman has a glimmer of self-worth or respect in this novel. (Well, there was one that rejected his demands but that took about a sentence in the book and she was gone.) When viewed as a satire, I suppose it’s easy to forgive these glaring generalities. But I never got the sense that it was a satire at all. The three main characters are little more two-dimensional loosely-formed caricatures.
What I can say, however, is that each character has their own distinctive voice. There is never a question of what chapter belongs to which character. That said, Heather’s chapters are littered with “likes” and other language that make her seem dumb and uncaring. She openly admits that she is majoring to be a teacher, but plans to land a husband before she ever has to work. As if this is something to be proud of. I simply don’t find this to be a believable attribute. I mean, don’t people try to at least self-censor a bit? To try and not cast themselves in bad light?
I raced through this book. I found it hard to put down. That is an unusual response to have to a novel you don’t like very much.
Bottom line: The Lie is lacking in literary merit. The core of it lies in descriptions of sexual decadence and prose about the depravity of the soul. And there are other stories (and writers) that can tackle these motifs better.