A habitual liar fakes her teaching credentials and takes on ghosts from her past to safeguard her children’s future in Zailckas’ (Mother, Mother, 2013, etc.) latest.
Gracie Mueller is a con artist who learned from the best—first her father and then her first husband. When her second husband begins having more and more money problems—and takes a girlfriend on the side—Gracie realizes she’s going to have to find her own way out of the mess. She picks an easy mark, a lonely, wealthy woman who hires her to design an addition to her house. Tragedy ensues, and Gracie fakes her own death and the deaths of her children to escape the consequences. Five years pass; they are all living under new identities when Gracie finds a new mark: a charming, lonely English teacher at Boulevard, one of the most prestigious prep schools in New York. She’s finagled the position of drama teacher when figures from her past, in addition to some memories, begin to resurface. Gracie will have to face her childhood trauma, and her own criminal actions, in order to find the freedom to live life as herself. Because the novel is narrated by Gracie, and she’s not a particularly trustworthy or likable figure in the beginning, it’s slow to start. But as she begins to reveal more complexity, and more human awareness, it becomes much more interesting and even relatable. At the end of the day, Gracie is a skilled liar, but she’s also a woman trying to figure out how to do—and have—it all. Her methods are just more extreme than most people’s. Once she’s putting more work into extricating herself from trouble, rather than orchestrating it, she becomes much more sympathetic, and it feels safe to celebrate her brilliance.
An unusual female perspective defies expectations and, ultimately, entertains.