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Book Review: The Lie by Fredrica Wagman

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From its very first pages, The Lie is a uniquely bizarre tale. It reveals the desolate feelings of Ramona Smollens through her mental stream-of-consciousness. Seen from the viewpoint of what is likely an emotionally disturbed mind, Ramona’s pitiable rambling begins when she starts a long but energetic conversation with a man she meets on a park bench.

At first, she does not notice the thin, dark haired, swarthy young man sitting next to her. What immediately possesses her is an obsession with his fingers: In her mind, they are thick, swollen fingers that seem to bulge at the end. They strike her as unnatural — out of place — like ten swollen penises. Because of these engorged fingers, Ramona desires this man, imagining him as some kind of sexual masterpiece.

“I murmured that my name was Ramona Smollens but deep within me on the very most inside place I said it was Rhonda Smollens, whom I sometimes called Rita Smollens in honor of Rita Hayworth.”

At the beginning of The Lie, the two chit-chat continuously while they chain smoke any number of cigarettes. In her nervousness, Ramona blathers on about her troubled past hinting that she loathed her father because he regularly abused her. What’s more, she despises her mother because she was aware of her husband’s actions with Ramona, but did nothing to stop them.

Ramona and the phallic-fingered man continue their discourse even though heavy rain soaks them both. Her "gloomy" new-found friend on the park bench beside her reveals that he, too, has a skeleton hidden in his personal closet. At the age of 12, he remembers witnessing his father being gunned down by two bullets. The father died naked, face down on the floor.

A short time thereafter, the repressed Ramona and her thick-fingered friend marry. She quickly discovers that her husband’s enormous sexual appetite does nothing to satisfy her own need for love. To Ramona, their beastly sexual union occurs all too frequently and all too quickly. Likening herself to sex symbol Rita Hayworth, she feels obliged to fake overwhelming gratification which drives her husband’s wild sexual ego to even more frequent copulation.

Ramona’s feelings of loneliness, desolation, and meaninglessness grow accordingly. In her flow-of-consciousness, Smollens imagines what the sexual life of Rita Hayworth must have been like. Knowing that Hayworth had been married five times, Ramona imagines that she, like Hayworth, might just be an insatiable woman. But Ramona has no real desire for another man. Instead, her sense of isolation, emptiness, and lack of love deepens.

When her husband discovers he has never brought his wife to a satisfying sexual climax, the two grow distant. Ramona imagines him as having secret lovers whom he can satisfy. She imagines she smells their perfume. In one instance, she is convinced she actually sees his lover in their home.

Repeatedly, her husband denies these accusations but Ramona persists. He adds to her mental delusions by claiming she is insane, hallucinating. This verbal barrage deepens her feelings of worthlessness and despair.

The Lie is a fascinating story to read. Author Wagman does her utmost to make her tale flow seamlessly along as several continuous thought streams in Ramona Smollens’ troubled mind.

The tale is highly charged sexually. When Ramona’s husband mounts her, she describes him as a “great chugging, puffing, huffing, locomotive … tearing down the tracks.”

I liked the fact that even Ramona’s surname, “Smollens”, had a sexual overtone. By changing one letter and dropping the “s,” it becomes Swollen, a word that describes over and over again on almost every page, her husband’s swollen penis-like fingers, not to mention his own phallic, “private business” part.

The surname also reminded me of Ramona’s swollen, deeply injured self-concept which repeatedly attempts to deal with sexual reality in the imagined personhood of Rita Hayworth. As the book nears its end, the reader will finally see exactly what The Lie refers to.

This book is not for the faint-hearted. I would recommend it as an intriguing read to anyone wanting to learn more about the undisguised effects that child abuse has on the human mind. The Lie takes the reader into the distraught, sometimes hallucinating, psyche of a woman who, to me, is more emotionally disturbed than sexually inadequate.

Psychologists and psychiatrists alike always warn of the damaging effects sexual abuse can have on the developing psyche during childhood. Without early counseling, an abused child cannot mature adequately. Fredrika Wagman’s fascinating book, The Lie, paints just such a cautionary picture.

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