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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Beautiful Lies

Many children, particularly the more introspective ones, consider at one time or another the possibility that they were adopted as babies and that their real parents are somewhere out there in the world, unlikely ever to be found. Usually, and thankfully, most get over it so quickly that the experience is soon completely forgotten or, at most, looked back upon as some silly piece of romantic thinking that now embarrasses them.

Others are so secure, happy, or maybe just so oblivious of life’s possibilities that such a thought never crosses their minds.

Ridley Jones was one of those.

She was one of those, that is, until life played one of those little tricks on her that come along when one least expects them. Ridley makes the “mistake” one morning of performing a heroic act for the first time in her life, something so brave and unusual that it catches the attention of a newspaper photographer who just happens to be near the street corner where Ridley makes her move. The resulting newspaper photo turns Ridley into an instant celebrity, even in a city like New York, and for a day or two she is all over the news.

And that’s when Ridley’s world begins to fall apart. First arrives a letter and an old photo from someone who saw her picture in the paper, along with the intriguing question, “Are you my daughter?” Despite the assumed absurdity of the question, Ridley is intrigued by the faded photo of a woman holding a toddler, a woman who looks very much like Ridley herself.

Beautiful Lies considers the impact that seemingly trivial decisions can have on the lives of those who make them and those to whom they are closest. The decision to have that extra cup of coffee or to delay leaving home until a favorite song finishes playing on the radio, for instance, can be the difference between being involved in a fatal accident or arriving at an intersection a few seconds after the accident has occurred. In that same fashion, Ridley Jones comes to realize that the photo taken to document her heroic act, an act resulting from a spur-of-the-moment decision on her part, killed the person she believed herself to be and gave birth to a new one she did not recognize.

Encouraged by the new neighbor to whom she is strongly attracted, Ridley finds the courage to search for the truth about herself and the woman in the old photograph. Along the way she will question every relationship she has ever experienced, including the ones with her parents, her drug-addicted brother, her fiancé and his mother, her beloved uncle, and her newly acquired lover. She will be chased and threatened by mobsters, barely escape sudden death, and forced to make fateful decisions that might very well imprison some of the people she loves most in the world.

Beautiful Lies is one heck of a ride but its sometimes comic tone and predictable, though farfetched, ending makes it difficult for the reader to believe that its main characters are ever really in danger of being eliminated from the book’s plot. Consequently, the tension level felt by most readers is unlikely to equal the concern for the characters that one would expect from the events being described. That said, Beautiful Lies is filled with snappy dialogue and the kind of plot that will have readers considering moral issues and the impact of chance on their own lives. Some readers will likely be put off by Unger’s conversational writing style, a style through which she maintains an ongoing dialogue with the reader throughout the course of the entire book; others will love that quirk.

Rated at: 3.5

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