The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie has a theme of betrayal with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy. Readers will be reminded of 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing, and the victims, those that died and those that survived. The story is told through the lives of the women affected, characters that present different faces, the public one and a masked one that they hope to keep secret.
When a gas explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of the women are forever altered. Over 500 people killed and thousands more have been wounded. To honor the one year anniversary Teo Jackson films a documentary about the “Triple Ten Explosion,” which happened on the tenth month, the tenth day, and at 10 AM. The past and present perspectives of Cecily and Kate, are told, while Franny’s story is told in the documentary interview transcripts.
A year ago, Cecily was photographed in a timeless shot capturing a pure moment of shock as she stands there staring at the wreckage, fearing her husband, Tom, and best friend, Kaitlyn, have been killed. On the anniversary, she has survivor’s guilt, knowing she was supposed to be in the building that day, but per usual was late. Another victim, Kate ran from the scene of the explosion, deciding to leave behind her young children and husband. She escapes to Canada hoping to make a new life for herself and that her past secrets won’t catch up with her. The third person, Franny, resents her life after finding out she was adopted and that Kaitlyn was her mother, but fate ends any attempt with reconciliation.
This is a complex story that delves into the lives of the victims. It has a major twist towards the end of the story bringing the women together in an unexpected way.
Elise Cooper: Why did you pick a story centered around a horrific tragedy?
Catherine McKenzie: There were a couple of threads coming together. Years ago, after September 11th I remember seeing the chain link fence where the missing photos were posted. I had a thought, could one of these people have used the tragedy as an opportunity to disappear.
EC: Did you base it on 9/11?
CM: I did not want to mimic the actual event, but it was in my thoughts. It was not set in New York, but in Chicago and I tried to move away from the rawness of September 11th. I had a lot of friends living in New York on that day. One of my friends had been in the adjacent tower. I do remember watching the events unfold and wondering if my friends were OK. My husband and his mother were in the Twin Towers a week before during that time of the day.
EC: You speak of coincidences in the book?
CM: Yes. I can’t imagine what it would be like. Someone on my husband’s side was supposed to be on the Titanic, but was held over for a court case. He never used the ticket. I remember reading of two people who survived the Twin Towers only to die in a plane crash a few years later. There are a lot of weird coincidences in life. I do not actually believe in fate or that things happen for a reason. Yet, it is true tiny little decisions made in life, like when I skipped kindergarten, can change the whole course. Would I have met the same people or met different people?
EC: Why did you get Franny’s point of view across through the transcripts?
CM: I wanted a writing challenge. I know as a writer I have to create a three-dimensional world of rooms, smells, and sounds. There was a tool taken away from me. With a transcript, you don’t get to say how the person was feeling or have access to their internal thoughts. As a lawyer, I read a lot of transcripts. It is interesting to me what can get lost from actually being in the room to reading the transcripts. It seemed at times it was not how I remembered it; yet, there it was on the page. Even in a documentary people have a narrative and can manipulate the story.
EC: Not all your victims are likeable?
CM: Everyone that dies in a tragedy seem to be amazing people. But as one of the characters says in the book, the law of averages says it is probably not true. We like everything to be black and white. We need our villain and our knight, but the reality is generally most people live a grey life, not wholly bad or wholly good. If you die today unexpectedly what is the most you are afraid of that people will know about you?
EC: Can you describe the characters?
CM: Cecily has guilt because she was supposed to be in the building and she was not fond of her husband. I am sure there is some form of hate even after losing someone who let you down in every way. She is trying to figure out what is best for her children and herself. This iconic photo of her has left her with notoriety that she has not chosen.
Kate is unhappy with her life and what she did. She makes terrible decisions. She reacts to everything as if it is a crisis.
Franny is a bit of a psychopath. She is a lost soul, very fragile who feels like an outsider.
EC: Do you think the theme is betrayal?
CM: Yes. What I wanted to explore was secrets and lies. My joking title was Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell. Lying is definitely a betrayal. I wouldn’t say all secrets are betrayals because people, even those closest to us, do not deserve to know everything about us and every single thought we have.
EC: You have a quote that should apply today, “A text is not communication”?
CM: I am guilty of that as well. I am in an office all day talking. At night after I get home I don’t want to talk so I text.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
CM: Good entertainment. I write stories that entertain myself, and I hope that it also entertains others as well. I want them to get caught up with the characters. Maybe that life is more complicated than we think. When I write books, I have a master plan, the main plot points. I try to put myself in the position of each character.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
CM: Its title, I’ll Never Tell, is coming out in April 2019. A summer camp owned by a family is thrown into disarray after the father deceases and they find out that twenty years earlier someone died there.
The Good Liar
Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching?
When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.
A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.
Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?