How to Lie, Cheat and Manipulate Your Way to the Top
By Neely Kennedy
In the September Ladies' Home Journal Book Club selection Alys, Always, journalist turned first time novelist Harriet Lane instantly captures the reader’s attention as she moves us through a concise psychological thriller. Ignited when a chance accident presents her with the opportunity to manipulate a celebrity author and his family to her great advantage, junior newspaper editor Frances aims to climb the glamorous literati social ladder to dazzling new heights. Frances reveals that underneath her façade of good listening skills, insightful observations, and intellect, lays a darker character.
Below are examples of Frances’ perceived intellectual superiority. Through deft observations and analysis of the players in her twisted game, she calculates a hidden agenda to pervade their lives and exploit their weaknesses.
“Polly’s young, of course, and on top of that she has the performer’s transparent and somehow rather tawdry desire for attention. She is entirely at ease talking about herself, as if it’s her birthright to be heard. That’s good. She has hardly noticed how uneven the conversation is. That’s good, too.”
“…we’re all pretending. The room is full of constructs and inventions. People are experimenting; trying out lines, seeing what goes down best and takes them the furthest. I watch the ways they betray themselves and their intentions, the way they draw closer to and turn away from each other. I hear the things they say and the things they leave unsaid.”
“From that moment on I am careful not to forget myself. I keep an eye on what I am drinking, and I don’t smoke anything, and I make sure the questions I ask are the usual ones. Shall I cook tonight? How much do I owe you for that? Red or White? Don’t mistake them for your friends, I tell myself again and again. Watch them. Watch yourself.”
“I’m always affected when I see people unable to gauge a situation. Occasionally I feel pity for them, more usually contempt; often I’m amused; but just sometimes, and this is one of those moments, I find their obtuseness almost endearing. I can’t imagine how luxurious it feels, that sort of blithe unthinkingness.”
“I listen to him as we sat there at the table, my head bent sorrowfully over my clasped hands, resting on thumb, fingers knitted. Oh, it would be so easy, I thought idly. So easy to allow his resentment to build. To harbor it, stroke it, foster it through various inflections. To say things, or not say things.”
Book Club Bonus: Have a round-robin discussion with your group—as you read the book, could you relate to any of Frances’s observations of character? Have you had similar experiences? Have you ever felt like an outsider? If so, what judgments did that detachment allow you to make about the insiders?
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