Book Review by Jack A. Urquhart ©2012
The early chapters of Rob Kaufman’s tensely wrought and engaging novel, One Last Lie, seem to herald a predictable story of ‘gayfluence’ brought low by tragedy. Indeed, Kaufman appears to be going for that familiar paradigm by setting his novel in the wealthy enclave of Westport, Connecticut, and by employing a narrative stance that immediately establishes the fact that misfortune has already befallen his protagonists, Jonathan Beckett and Philip Stone, a successful, loving, same-sex couple who previously lived the good life in Westport’s privileged environs.
But once the novel kicks into high gear via Kaufman’s flashback storytelling, the trappings of Westport’s “A-list” gay life—designer showcase homes, couturier fashion and fragrance, celebrity restaurants (Tim Gunn couldn’t have done a better job at name dropping)—take a back seat to the novel’s unrelenting march toward a carefully plotted, suspenseful climax.
There is something simultaneously unsettling and thrilling (at least to this reader) about foreknowledge—something that keeps us turning pages in the same way that we continue perversely toward the scene of a roadside accident even when the flashing emergency lights are visible from miles away. Those lights begin to flash in One Last Lie the moment Kaufman introduces Angela, his fascinating villainess.
Perhaps the novel’s most compelling character, Angela, a friend from Philip’s college days, charms her way around Jonathan’s neuroses-fueled mistrust (a condition described by his therapist as an “irritated state of being”) to become part of the couples’ lives. But as with many a great villainess, Angela’s charm serves a sinister agenda—one she sets about achieving by convincing the men to have a child with her via artificial insemination.
For sheer deviousness and evil intent, Kaufman’s Angela approaches the likes of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Lady De Winter in The Three Musketeers. Almost as soon as the ink is dry on the co-parenting legal contract prepared by Jonathan’s and Philip’s attorney, Angela leads the increasingly anxious fathers-to-be (Jonathan is ostensibly the sperm donor) on a relentless, and at times, excruciatingly tense journey toward tragedy and the revelatory denouement foreshadowed in the novel’s title.
Speaking of denouement, it is difficult for this reader to imagine that any reader who has experienced a lasting, deeply committed loving relationship could fail to be moved by the conclusion that Kaufman offers in One Last Lie. Tender-hearted readers should have their hankies at the ready.
The novel has a few possibly temporary flaws, some of which seem related to Amazon’s troubled HTML conversion technology for e-books. In a few instances, the reader is jarred abruptly backward or forward in time—literally from one paragraph to the next—without benefit of a section break; however, these imperfections may also be related to Amazon’s conversion technology and its tendency to obliterate the author’s formatting choices. Future iterations of the e-book (this reader purchased an early version) may well have eliminated these problems—snags that are hopefully altogether absent in the novel’s soft-bound version.
Ultimately a story of undefeated love couched in a tense drama of deception, betrayal, and violence, Kaufman’s novel puts the lie to the genre labels often attached to works that place gay protagonists center stage. Indeed, One Last Lie transcends tags such as ‘gay fiction,’ ‘gay romance,’ or even ‘gay suspense/thriller’ by offering a satisfying mainstream reading experience (from the nail-biting to the hankie producing) that is suitable for a broad cross-section of discerning readers.
Jack Urquhart is the author of several works of fiction including the short story, “They say you can stop yourself breathing” and So They Say Collected Stories. He can be followed on Twitter @jackaurquhart.