Lies of the Heart
Michelle Boyajian
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Buy *Lies of the Heart* by Michelle Boyajian online

Lies of the Heart
Michelle Boyajian
352 pages
April 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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While a tense and provocative courtroom drama is tied to an unraveling marriage, an accidental shooting provides the catalyst for Boyajian’s novel in which the collateral damage of wrecked lives undulates outwards. Although documentary filmmaker Kate Burrelli has never actually finished a film, she’s convinced that her work is a reflection of her own desires to make sense of the world around her.

Positive that this latest project will be her best yet, Kate has been interviewing Arthur and Sarah, two Holocaust survivors. But life takes a dramatic turn when Nick, her brilliant speech therapist husband, is shot dead at point-blank range by one of his patients, the intellectually challenged Jerry LaPlante. The tragedy devastates Kate, but what buries most deeply into her psyche are the images of Jerry smiling, pulling the trigger and shooting Nick directly in the face.

With Jerry’s words “Time to go, Nick” forever burned into Kate’s mind, she cannot erase the warped visions of Nick lying facedown, bleeding to death on the floor of the Warwick Center gymnasium room. In alternating chapters, Boyajian builds her story in layers, dramatically moving between the scenes in court where Jerry is placed on trial for murder and the fierce buzzing taking place in Kate’s ears that lend her reality a blurred, dreamlike quality as Nick comes back to her “in dark, wondering dreams.”

Jerry’s issues are of diminished capacity and moral culpability as we gradually learn of Kate’s life with Nick as he "steals back into her frame." Clearly Nick and Kate were having problems in the months leading up to his death, but this doesn’t stop Jerry from becoming the target for Kate’s rage, just as Richard, her lawyer, is determined to prove the shooting was a calculated and premeditated act. But can a mentally retarded man be held responsible for his actions? Did Jerry know what he was doing the day he murdered Nick?

The author unveils a complex portrait of Kate and Nick in which Jerry had once been a confidante and friend in a deceptively happy-go-lucky world of sleepovers and birthday parties, Bugs Bunny cakes and Saturday morning cartoons. Soon enough, however, Jerry transforms from normal pudgy innocence, confusion and happiness into something more horrific, his eyes like “pin-points of rage” - almost feral and focused on destruction.

From Kate and Nick’s courtship (the sexual attraction between them is almost palpable) to their story of love amid chaos, the author merges their lives effortlessly with Jerry’s over time. Kate remains overwhelmed by her burdens and her “sizzling antagonism” toward Jerry, Richard, the court case and her family, eventually withdrawing into a tiny world of loss with only videos of Arthur and Sarah for company. Dana, her beautiful and accomplished older sister, tries to lend a protective arm though her mother is forever critical. Only her father's “wounded and stilted looks of love” seem to calm her.

Accepting and bottling up her sadness and frustrations, Kate's consciousness exudes a vibrant and sharp cinematic feeling. Boyajian controls Kate - convinced she will never be able to give up her anger toward Jerry or face the terrible truths behind her crumbling marriage - with an aching tenderness and a practiced eye, getting to the heart of her internal pain and her last pictures of Nick as his ashen face carves up all that is passionate and oppressive within her.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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