A new book from Zoe Whittall? Yes, please! I jumped at the chance to read this and am thankful to the teams at Netgalley and HarperCollins Canada for making that happen.
When the notification about the advanced copy landed in my inbox, I was thrilled, but I had also carefully planned my next ten days’ of reading in advance. If you know me at all, you know that this is a rare endeavour and also a largely futile one. Even when I think I want to do something, I often get in my own way and flip the plan on its head. Here’s the thing, though. I was a day away from leaving on a European adventure with a friend and I was really excited at having two books at the ready, one for each of the main destinations we were hitting up. I had spent time researching fiction set in Athens and Berlin in hopes that I could maximize my travel experience of both. In the end, it actually went perfectly and I finished reading Outline by Rachel Cusk on the day before we left Athens and Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel on the day we left Berlin. Having one day in Amsterdam and a twenty-three hour travel day ahead of me presented the perfect opportunity to squeeze in the digital sweetheart that I had waiting for me, The Fake by Zoe Whittall.
After the death of her wife, Shelby feels more alone than ever—until she meets Cammie, a charismatic woman unafraid of what anyone else thinks and whose own history of trauma draws Shelby close. When Cammie is fired from her job and admits she is in treatment for kidney cancer, Shelby devotes all her time to helping Cammie thrive. But Shelby’s intuition tells her there are things about Cammie’s past that don’t add up. Could the realest thing about Cammie be that she’s actually a scammer?
Gibson is almost forty, fresh from a divorce and deeply depressed. Then he meets and falls in love with Cammie. Suddenly, he’s having the best sex of his life with a woman so attractive he’s stunned she even glanced his way, and for the first time ever he feels truly known. This is the kind of desire and passion that musicians have been writing love songs about for centuries. But Gibson’s friends are wary of Cammie, and eventually he too has to admit that Cammie’s dramatic life can feel a bit over the top.
When Shelby and Gibson find out Cammie is a pathological liar, they struggle to understand what they really want from her—sometimes they want to help her heal from whatever causes her to invent reality, and sometimes they want revenge. But the biggest question of all is: how honest can Shelby and Gibson be about their own characters?
The thing I’ll get out of the way first is that, if one were to come at this as a fan of Whittall’s more popular books, The Best Kind of People and The Spectacular, then one might be apprehensive at the outset. The premise: a scam artist suddenly appears in the lives of a new lover and a new friend, appears light and possibly shallow. It could definitely be confused as a departure from her very complex and relationship focused past works. The Fake, at first glance, seems like a simple story and, really, it is. What’s deep and engrossing about it isn’t on the surface. It’s what floats up from the depths of the story when you put it down or think about it after it’s over. The beauty of this story and of Whittall’s storytelling skill is that lurking just out of the picture and unbeknownst to the reader, she is working on what may feel like a small topic in a much bigger way. Yes, it’s easy to vilify the scammer. She’s taking advantage of a man who’s just gone through a painful breakup and a woman whose wife has just passed away. What’s not so obvious or common a consideration is the way that the scam fit so perfectly and easily into their lives. Finishing The Fake may even lead the reader to contemplate how the scammer may have worked in service to those she manipulated. It’s all a set up for a complicated reorganization of inter-relational roles and how deception may be alive and well in ways we never anticipated or appreciated.
Heather O’Neill said “My perspective on lies and liars has forever changed after reading this book.” I think that anyone reading this book may be at risk of having the same thing happen to them.
The Fake is slated to come out on March 23rd, 2023 and you can preorder your copy now.