- What: The Lies That Bind
- Who: Emily Giffin
- Pages: 335, hard cover
- Genre: Chick lit
- Published: 2020
- The lit: of 5 flames
Y’all should know my love for Emily Giffin by now. I’ve never tried to hide it since I first read Something Borrowed when I was 15. In a way, I’ve grown up with Giffin’s writing, and I’ve seen a change in her books just like I’ve seen a change in myself. But there are some aspects of Giffin’s work that have never altered, and for that I am grateful.
From her first book to the her 10th, she’s showcased an incredible ability to write great and relatable characters, and she excels at telling stories that thrive in that gray area that makes literature so wonderfully complex. These same attributes are ever-present in her recent novel, The Lies That Bind, which might just be her best work yet.
Cecily Gardner has just broken up with her boyfriend of five years, Matthew, who wouldn’t put a ring on it. But he’s all she knows from the past five years, and so she’s about to call him from a bar at 2 a.m. right when an attractive man walks in and tells her it’s a bad idea. Struck by his boldness and uncanny ability to read her mind, Cecily wants to know more about this mysterious and good-looking man named Grant. After some shots, mild conversation, and even more silence that is surprisingly comforting, Cecily invites him to her apartment.
They have an unlikely connection and continue to see each other despite some personal trouble that Grant’s trying to overcome. It’s only been a few months, but Cecily knows this type of bond and passion don’t come along every day. Maybe Grant is the answer to a five-year, dead-end relationship, to her lackluster and stalling career as a journalist at a third-rate gossip paper, and to her ambivalent feelings about living in New York. Maybe for once she should follow her heart … until 9/11 occurs and turns everyone’s worlds upside down.
While simultaneously trying to grip with this tragedy and make sense of the world, Cecily can’t reach Grant and fears for the worst — knowing he works in finance and in downtown Manhattan. Then she finds his picture on a “lost” poster. When she calls the number on the flyer, she learns that Grant was not necessarily the man he claimed to be, that he had secrets Cecily could never imagine, and that maybe he was too good to be true. As she tries to grieve and find her balance after Grant’s truth knocks her unsteady, Cecily will also have to confront if she’s the woman she claimed to be for the past five years — and if she wants to be someone else.
As I said before, Emily Giffin is one of the best character writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Every single time I pick up one of her books, I am certain that, by the end, I’ll have a clear cut picture of who every single character is and their relationships with one another. I never have to question motives, feelings, or actions because Giffin so expertly defines them in every thing they say or do.
Giffin does that with The Lies That Bind too. She makes it so clear through Cecily’s dialogue and actions rather than through explicit exposition that Cecily is a bit of an overthinker and overachiever. She firmly believes in life plans and that your brain should win over your heart. As a reader, you never have to question these aspects of her.
I can also so clearly see Cecily grow and experience a beautiful character arc to become someone willing to take a few more risks and to learn that life is more than living in the biggest city, having the best job, and being with the most suitable person on paper. It’s about being happy — regardless of with whom or where. Giffin writes all of her characters in this way, not just the main ones, and this is the type of characterization authors should aspire to achieve.
Not to mention they are incredibly flawed, imperfect, interesting, and relatable. In a recent conversation with my cousin about Giffin’s impressive character creations, she commented how she knows a Darcy in her life. She knows a Rachel. She knows a Cecily. We know all these characters because Giffin gives us reality in the ones she creates and their experiences.
Oh and in case you were wondering, Darcy, Rachel, and Ethan do make a cameo in this novel, and it’s a pre-Something Borrowed one too.
Furthermore, Giffin’s characters also always live in the gray, which brings me to my second favorite part about The Lies That Bind and really her other nine books too. As I mentioned, these characters are incredibly flawed, and they all make questionable decisions. But Giffin creates them in a way that makes you empathize and sympathize with all of them.
Take Grant for example. He has lied … a lot. I won’t give anything away, but his lies — in a black and white world — would be enough to make you hate his guts and never forgive him, postmortem or not. Nothing is ever that straightforward, though, and you start to feel yourself softening toward him and feeling sympathetic for the tough choices he’s had to make. Nobody’s perfect, and everyone deserves growth and redemption. We get that with the three main characters in this book. Giffin reminds us that it’s all too easy to point fingers and all too difficult to be in someone else’s shoes.
With great stories and plots and characters, you’d think there would be one flaw to this novel, but I really can’t think of one. Her writing is always so, well, flawless and just flows so smoothly that you easily flip from one page to the next without ever needing or wanting to put it down. Just like the characters, her writing is relatable and never strays too far into deep or poetic territory, making it easy for any reader to connect with.
On page 15, for example, Giffin writes about Cecily and Grant getting breakfast the next morning. She could have easily written that out like I just did, but instead she writes, “how seamless the transition from bed to booth has been.”
Bed to booth. Why does that seem so talented yet so simple! These three straightforward words illustrate Giffin’s creative and engaging writing style that never TTH (tries too hard for the lame people who haven’t read Something Borrowed) and that moves at the perfect pace. Because of that, she never loses her readers, yet somehow still offers so many great lessons along the way.
I’d argue Giffin’s writing has matured and gotten tighter since that very first book of hers that captured my heart so long ago. To have longevity and to continue improving is a feat in any profession, and it’s especially impressive in literature from one book to the next, which is why I’ll always be anxiously awaiting the next Giffin novel to be released into my eager hands.