My new novel, LOVE AT FIRST LIE, tells the story of Argentine American housewife Dahlia Krumholtz, a recovering drug addict, cheater and liar. It is my goal that readers will understand and perhaps even like her anyway.
Needless to say I had to self-publish this novel, after my agent refused to consider shopping it because of its "inherently unlikable lead character." When I asked what it was that made Dahlia unlikable (I happen to like Dahlia quite a lot, thank you) I was told that "No one likes reading about liars."
Happily, the novel debuted this week at No. 9 in the world for US Hispanic fiction on Amazon's Kindle bestseller list anyway -- without a publisher, publicity, advertising, magazine or newspaper reviews or anything but word of mouth among my loyal readers via social media. Apparently, my readers do like reading about a liar. As of yesterday, LOVE AT FIRST LIE was at No. 3, just ahead of the latest book by Junot Diaz.
My belief in Dahlia as a character came from the fact that I, too, have enjoyed reading about liars in novels. They are some of my favorite characters, and lying is one of the more fascinating parts of the human condition. The following are my six favorite liars in literature.
1. Cyrano de Bergerac - Author Edmond Rostand created a beautiful monster in the character of Cyrano de Bergerac in the eponymous novel, a talented, brilliant man with a wonderful heart, who happens to have been born with a huge and hideous nose. In order to experience the reciprocation of his love for a beautiful woman (and let's forget for a moment that Roxanne is his, um, cousin) Cyrano allows another man -- the shallow yet handsome Baron Christian de Neuvillette -- to pretend to have written love letters that he himself has written. In other words, Cyrano lies to the woman he loves most in all the world. This does not make us hate him. It makes us detest the shallow society that has made it all but impossible for homely people to have the true beauty of their souls recognized.
2. Yunior - Author Junot Diaz created a decidedly unreliable yet entirely likeable narrator in The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, in Yunior, who not only never tells us his full name, but who openly admits to exaggerating, elaborating and, yes, lying. People liked Yunior so much, in fact that they snapped up a second novel, This is How You Lose Her, featuring the same womanizing liar. Yunior is not exactly a guy you'd want to date, but he is realistic, and you know that the author is laughing at him right along with you.
3. Lecha - In her sprawling novel Almanac of the Dead, author Leslie Marmon Silko created one of the most likable liars I've ever encountered, in the lead character of Lecha, a psychic and recovering drug addict whose complicated narrative journey is as rewarding as it is nontraditional.
4. Odd Thomas - In his beautifully written Odd Thomas series, Dean Koontz creates a protagonist unlike any ever seen in literature before -- a self-deprecating reluctant hero and short order cook who sees dead people. Odd knows he's weird, and he knows he really does see ghosts everywhere -and he has also chosen to never reveal any of this to his parents, knowing that his father would exploit his gift for profit. Sometimes, it seems, people have to lie to protect themselves from awful people.
5. Sydney Carton - In the classic Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton starts out as a drunk, womanizer and liar -- a scoundrel, if you will. But by the end of the book, when he lies about his identity in order to take the place before the firing squad of a man the woman he loves loves, we see that he is a wounded and extremely moral human being. Sydney's big lie, the "far, far better thing" that he does, his sacrifice of his own life to make another person happy for the rest of hers, is not only beautiful, it made me cry for days. Sometimes people, even despicable addicts, lie to save the lives of other people.
6. Ignatius Reilly - In the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, the lead character of Ignatius Reilly is not only disgusting, delusional and annoying, he's dishonest. You like him anyway, because author John Kennedy Toole crafts his personality and narrative with dexterity. Ignatius lies because he is mentally ill and incapable of dealing with reality. Mostly, Ignatius lies to himself, and believes it, and you laugh at him while also pitying him. Along the way, as the "honest" repugnance of the other characters is revealed, you start to wonder whether it is actually the buffoon Ignatius or his society that is sick.
The Toole novel becomes all the more poignant for me when I consider the difficulty the author had in selling it to a publisher -- so much difficulty, in fact, that he killed himself. It was only after his death that his mother found a publisher. The book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. I do wonder, if self-publishing had been an option for him, whether Toole would still be alive today.
Alisa Valdes is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her newest novel, Love at First Lie, is out in e-book this week and will be released in paperback next month.