Upon opening The Lie and How We Told It, Fantagraphics’ latest release from Australian cartoonist Tommi Parrish, I thought to myself that I probably wasn’t going to get much out of this book based on what I’d just seen and read. The art looked solid at times and not so much for the rest (there’s also an ambiguity to the character forms at times but I feel this is intentional) and the writing was sparse, or so it seemed. I guess it took a while for me to care about the protagonists and the one day we get to spend with them.
The book observes two old friends, Cleary and Tim, who bump into each other after many years. We follow them as they catch up with each other and discuss the old days and new. A few times it feels like Tim is the lead character in this title but by the end there’s almost no doubt that this is mostly Cleary’s story. They talk about relationships and past mistakes, embarrassments, upcoming weddings…. all very mundane and believable. So far the book wasn’t giving me enough cause to care bar reading it for review purposes. That was until the story within a story happened.
I love multi timbrel story telling — as far as gimmicks go, you can pretty much always sway me with the old metaphor/analogue/meta creative mechanism. This story within a story somehow made me care about Cleary. She found the book behind a bush whilst Tim went to get more wine to sate their social appetites. I found myself thinking what she thought as she reads what we’re reading — how does it affect her? Why did I suddenly care? Tommi Parrish managed to work some kind of magic in this book. Every time Tim spoke to Cleary (and vice versa) I wondered what they thought of the words they were hearing. It felt quite real. It’s genuinely been a while since characters felt so real to me. We follow the duo to a bar where they catch up some more and bring up the past, revealing even greater depth to the characters. Then they finish their drinks and eventually go their separate ways. It’s all so believable. It’s probably happened to us all at one point or other — you bump into someone from way back when, you catch up and then depart, promising for it to not be so long until you see them next. Then you realize how you’ve grown apart or how different your lives are or wonder why you never kissed. There’s a sadness to this book but maybe that’s just what I saw in it. If we don’t know who we are, can we ever really know anyone else?
Ultimately the book made me think about several social issues, my own friendships and relationships, and the personal discoveries we all make during our lifetimes. How life is in constant flow, how we use the past to measure how we’ve progressed as people, and how growing up can sometimes mean growing apart.