Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
By Richard James Allen
ISBN 9781922332646, Paperback, 66pages, $26aud
There is seemingly nothing that Richard James Allen cannot do. Actor, poet, yoga teacher, filmmaker, dancer, and now novelist, though it’s a bit of a stretch to call More Lies a novel. It’s a kind of novel pastiche.
There is always a degree of artifice in the process of creating a narrative. A story must be constructed, and the many and multiple perspectives of reality fixed into something linear and sensical, which is, in its way, antithetical to the reality of life. Allen plays with this notion, weaving together multiple narrative threads into a story that sets itself up as a noir thriller with an engaging tagline: a writer held hostage by a beautiful woman, forced to type on his typewriter as a decoy to an assassination. But there are many other plotlines that come into this entirely unreliable narration. These include a story about a dysfunctional (to say the least) family, about the shifting nature of identity, a story about deep-seated, endemic corruption, a tale of seduction which may or may not be a love story, and a number of other mini-tales that form part of our nameless narrator’s tale, including the self-referential one about the nature of story-making itself and the way in which it creates reality–is that good (will it save us?) or bad (will it undo us) – there is no moral here but there are plenty of questions that come out of the work.
The story is told in short vignettes of one or two pages long, that repeatedly break the fourth wall:
I am the story. Don’t ask me if I am true. (54)
The book engages directly with the complexity of the narrative, playing with the form in a way that is quirky and fun but also unsettling. There is always a different perspective, another story, another socially constructed identity, a different community that we might belong to. Allen creates a dynamic story that continually undermines the reader’s perspective while simultaneously drawing us in as participants:
For all of this long and winding road you have allowed me to exist. Otherwise, I would have been only potential. Without your gaze, I am nothing. (53)
It’s hard to fix the story, as the narrative journey continues to morph in a way that is increasingly multi-genred, with poems, theatrical dialogue, a blank confession form, and regular shifts in time, space, and setting. Throughout the book we are continually reminded of the image of an author at his typewriter—the one constant–even as, quite humorously, the protagonist does a range of things that generally are not possible to do while typing at a typewriter, such as having sex, running for his life, telling his story to the police, and even changing gender and identity. Binaries like guilt and innocence, desire and compulsion, knowledge and ignorance to name a few, are all messed with. There is a meta-fictional aspect to the story which continues to break the fourth wall, bringing us back to process:
Fear wakes you up. It makes you think clearly. At least for a time. Then it wears you out. It’s the adrenaline rush. Suddenly I’m exhausted. I don’t even know why I’m typing any more. I guess it has become a form of thinking. (27)
So what is More Lies? It is really not a classic thriller, a coherent narrative, or a story that goes through the standard hero’s journey towards closure. Above all, it is a thought-provoking, humourous, entertaining, and occasionally disturbing story that will unhinge the reader, leaving more questions than answers. You’ll be all the richer for it.