|Let's face it, sequels can be confusing. Especially sequels that are meant to be standalone literary experiences. Martha McPhee's Gorgeous Lies explores the fictional world established in her well-received first novel, Bright Angel Time. In the 1970s, therapist and would-be revolutionary Anton Furey becomes the paterfamilias of two families. He brings them to live together under one roof, where they become a kind of hippie Brady Bunch.|
They were famous for many reasons. They were famous because they lived on a vast piece of property. They were famous because Anton was a Gestalt therapist and in town he had a reputation for holding therapy sessions on his front lawn. They were famous because there were so many of them. They were famous with all the shopkeepers and merchants in town for making late payments on their bills, but even so they still got credit, because they were famous.
The book toggles between that chaotic time and the present, when Anton Furey lies dying of cancer and his family is scattered to the four winds. Gorgeous Lies reveals, never quite completely, what happened in the intervening years. The writing here is careful and funny and evasive, at times almost mystical. But McPhee's elliptical style isn't well suited to a standalone sequel. Too often we're left wondering if she means to leave some mystery open-ended, or if it was just something we missed in the first novel. Fans of Bright Angel Time will welcome the return to utopia. The rest of us are charmed, but a bit befuddled. --Claire Dederer