I love “iceberg” books like this – small and simple on the surface yet massive with complexity beneath the waterline. Malone has crafted a rich, rewarding read full of intriguing characters that somehow never move or act quite as you expect, which makes A Field Guide to Deception quite deceptive indeed.
It’s the story of Claire, who is raising her boy and grieving the death of her aunt, an author of field guides for mushrooms (well, actually Claire wrote them for her – the first deception in the book) and Liv, the carpenter she hires to re-do her aunt’s house. Liv has a tendency to haunt the bars looking for girls to bang, but it’s more out of diversion than actual desire. She is tired of the one-night-stands but doesn’t want the vulnerability of commitment. Of course, they end up together. But there are complications –one of whom is Bailey, Liv’s best friend who is also in love with her.
Far from being a book about simple relationships – because there are no such things – A Field Guide to Deception has an incredible sense of dread. You really root for these women to make a go of it, yet everything they say and do dooms them from the start. As Liv says at one point, “We suck at this.” And they do. But so do many other couples, and they manage to stay together. Do Claire and Liv stand a chance? It’d be mean of me to tell.
Malone underwrites and underplays the drama beautifully, sketching her characters with languid surety until they’re fully formed. This book is less about plot than it is about human nature, so genre readers may find this slow going, but I found the people here so genuine that the paucity of plot points didn’t bother me in the least. But the last twenty or thirty pages, which contain a startling event the ending turns on, move the story firmly and clearly to conclusion. And they do so in such a subtle, disarming way that you’re smiling with satisfaction as you come to the epilogue.
My lone complaint is that the epilogue seems tacked on as it really adds nothing to the essential story, but the point is so minor as to be completely irrelevant and it’s so damn well-written that it’s forgiveable. A Field Guide to Deception is beautiful, essential reading.
And that’s no deception.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler