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Liar: A Memoir


Liar: A Memoir

Let me start this review by making it clear that Rob Roberge’s memoir of mental illness and addiction is not for the faint of heart. Told in the second person, LIAR immerses the reader in Roberge’s impressively full life, jumping through key moments of humiliation and jubilation with little to no warning. Though it may earn comparisons to the works of Augusten Burroughs, the book is highly unique in its pacing and stark immediacy, traits that will make even the bravest and most informed readers squirm. That said, if you have ever crossed paths with addiction or mental illness, LIAR is not to be missed.

Choosing to dive right in, Roberge begins LIAR by relaying the story of the death of a childhood girlfriend, the victim of a random murder. As jarring as this account is, it is not long before you are quickly transported to another memory. To explain this sudden leap, Roberge writes, “While many things happened before Nicole was killed, this is really where all the other things start, and, to a certain degree, end.” He could not be more right.

Roberge’s first interaction with alcohol is innocent enough --- he is a young boy who wants to drink his parents’ liquor because of the pretty colors of the bottles. One night after a party, he gets his chance and finds that he rather enjoys alcohol’s numbing effects and ubiquitous warmth. From this point on, he will find any chance possible to alter his state of being, whether it be through alcohol, pills or hardcore street drugs. Education-wise, he develops an obsession with extinct animals, a fascination that his teachers find morbid and obscene. To combat his feelings of loneliness and restlessness, he turns once again to illicit substances.

"Roberge is not days and times, but simply Roberge --- the addict, the manic partier, the stoic writer and, above all, the person."

It is not long before Roberge begins acting “full-blown crazy,” aligning himself to erratic sleep patterns and even more wild partying. At 18 he is diagnosed as bipolar with rapid cycling and occasional psychotic episodes. In other words, whereas most people diagnosed with bipolar disorder will have weeks or even months between periods of mania, Roberge could flip at a moment’s notice. His symptoms, he is told, will only worsen with the use of alcohol or hallucinogens, two of his favorite vices at the time. Unfortunately, Roberge is uncomfortable with his medications --- rather than normalizing him, they dull him, making him exhausted and barely able to converse with others. This is, no doubt, a problem many readers have heard of before, but by employing the second person, Roberge compels readers to take a close, hard look at mental illness and themselves. He forces us to ask not only “Isn’t that sad?” but also “How would I feel?”

From here, it becomes difficult to grasp onto a single storyline, as Roberge’s narrative jumps between decades, days and even mental states. At first I found this infuriating, as I often couldn’t piece together who he was during each section, but then I realized it did not matter. Roberge relays his story the way it happened: immediate, intense and terrifying. He truly shows readers what it is like to lose large gaps of time and come to consciousness scared of what may have happened in the dark. In reading along, we sometimes get these answers, but more often we do not, which is exactly the way Roberge lived for decades.

There is, blessedly, a period of sobriety for Roberge, during which time he marries and begins to function normally once again. When his wife becomes ill, however, he struggles, turning once again to pills. His guilt and shame compel him to take even more drugs, threatening not only his marriage but also his position as a college professor. Perhaps because this relapse occurred so recently, Roberge’s writing takes on a new power. His previous willingness to humiliate himself increases tenfold, making these sections the most poignant of the book. Any reader who has battled addiction or loves someone who has will find themselves absolutely awestruck.

Although many of Roberge’s stories are fascinating, I found myself most intrigued by his relationships with his wife and best friend, two people who love him unconditionally. Their love for him comes with blind acceptance, proving to readers that there is far more to Roberge than his tales of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. I was also moved by his love of writing, a passion that seems to help him stay focused even when he knows his brain is against him. In the end, he claims that LIAR is an attempt to record the most profound moments of his life, but I feel it is far more than that. The book is the driving force behind Roberge’s sober --- and sobering --- acceptance of even the darkest, most unforgivable moments of his life.

I have already said that Roberge’s style takes some getting used to, so to future readers I advise this: It does not matter if the dates and times add up, so long as you feel you are getting a full portrait of the person. Roberge is not days and times, but simply Roberge --- the addict, the manic partier, the stoic writer and, above all, the person.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 12, 2016

Liar: A Memoir
by Rob Roberge

  • Publication Date: February 9, 2016
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0553448064
  • ISBN-13: 9780553448061