Dirty Liar Review

Dirty Liar
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Fans of Brian James's books are not drawn to his writing for its evocative and intricate sentence structure, or for the promise of a complex story arc with completely original characters. You won't find either of those things in James's work. Instead, what you will find is a staccato, ragged telling of an everyday character and his or her everyday problems that spills into a narrative so emotionally raw and uncomfortably powerful that you can't help but feel changed by reading it.
His latest, DIRTY LIAR, traverses much of the same territory that his previous novels do --- love, heartache, drug usage, alienation and feeling misunderstood, familial dysfunction --- but, as with all writers who capitalize on their own familiar subject matters, he travels the terrain well. Again, it is not so much what James writes about, but how he does it that will endear readers to the story.
At first, Benji seems like the typical "un-cool" teenage boy --- reserved, eyes downcast, closed off to the world. He wears his long hair in front of his face to hide his eyes and his clothes are scruffy, non-descript and neutral. His one close friend, Sean, appears to want to spend time with him (at least he doesn't ignore him), while the others at school are content to let him blend unnoticed into their scenery. There's even a girl at school he likes from afar, Rianna, who pays no attention to him until the day she does, which makes the plot thicken, if only predictably so in that misunderstood-boy-gets-saved-by-the-popular-girl-who-suddenly-decides-to-talk-to-him way.
What makes Benji's story different is his mother's drinking and her boyfriend's verbally and sexually abusive behavior; his father's cold disapproval of him despite his stepmother's weak attempts to bring the family together; and his incessant talk of demons that threaten to squash any form of self-confidence he might have had before the divorce, before the move to Portland to live with his father, and before the moment when he became so disgusted with being alive. What makes Benji's struggle so authentic is the way his thoughts are constantly racing and so glaringly honest; the way his self-awareness is so fragile and mutable; and the fact that deep down, he truly wants his life to get better, despite his inability to get past the hate and fear that he feels on a day-to-day basis.
It is clear from his no-holds-barred portrayal of Benji's self-loathing and intense distrust of those around him that James is no stranger to the world of teen angst. Although some of the scenes he describes are a tad too melodramatic or contrived to be believable, his unrelenting push to get all of the messy and vulnerable moments that come with being a teenager down on the page is what makes the book worthwhile. He deals with sexual abuse with a creepy candor that will surely make readers' skin crawl, but some may argue that the appeal of the book is exactly the frankness with which he deals with taboo subjects. All in all, an engrossing read to add to your collection.
--- Reviewed by Alexis Burling

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