The best lies are simple, easy to remember and easy to believe. She calls herself Julie and she restores antiques in a little shop in Paris. She hides behind her tools, uses language as a costume. She tries to put Grace, Riley, Allston, and the Wynne House from her mind, but consistently returns to an internet cafe where she scans the newspaper headlines from Garland, Tenn.
She holds her breath, waiting for the phone call, the sirens, the familiar foot-fall. She knows, someday, the lies will trip her. Only when her past catches her, and forces out of her lies, does she “unbecome,” and dissolve into her true self.
Forgery, thievery, and the art of self-deception are at the heart of this heist plot, or at the very least form a clever, convincing facsimile of a heart which disguises the true, throbbing life force: happiness. What is the cost of true happiness?
All of the characters in this novel deceive themselves and each other. Julie keeps her identity from her coworkers and boss, but Jacqueline and Hana have secrets of their own, secrets that lead Julie deeper into the very darkness within herself she struggles to escape. Hana has her own experiences with passion, unchecked and devastating. Jacqueline willingly straddles the line of professional morality, straying to whichever side benefits her in the moment.
Humans deceive ourselves daily—an unconscious survival mechanism. Not to the same extent as Hana, Jacqueline, and Julie, but humans trick themselves in small ways. We set clocks 5 minutes fast. We drink caffeine to convince ourselves we have energy. We tell ourselves we are safe in our cars. We allow ourselves to believe we really know somebody, that we know ourselves. This deception is part of the cost of happiness. We trade little truths for an easier path to happiness.
Julie’s “unbecoming,” the unraveling of her disguise, reveals a small-town girl-next-door whose life becomes, quickly and unexpectedly, unpromising. Mistakes are made, momentum lost. Until she stumbles upon a plan, simple and clean. Only a few, easy steps stand between her and what she wants, her true happiness. If only she can figure out what her true happiness looks like, or rather who. She spends her whole life deceiving herself, playing a part she chooses for herself, but ultimately has no idea who she is, what she stands for or believes in. Who is Julie, a dedicated girlfriend, a femme-fatale, or someone else all together?
Sherm writes with confidence, making larceny sexy and stylish. She creates characters too complex to simply like or dislike; they inspire a disgusted sympathy. Sherm, like Pulitzer-Prize winner Donna Tartt, uses forgery to explore the true meaning of beauty in art, forgiveness, and happiness. Scherm keeps readers guessing until the very end, until “there they lay in repair, the forgiver and the forgiven.”