Bett Norris


A Field Guide to Deception

This week I will write about a book I really love. Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, is itself a deceptive experience. It was a finalist for the Ferro Grumley award, and a winner of a Lambda literary award.

Richard LaBonte referred to Jill Malone’s first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, as a “nonlinear novel that jitterbugs through time and place.”

Malone’s second novel is a smoother dance, more of a raft ride down the rapids, where your position changes with every whorl of current. The characters and the plot leave you facing one way, then whip you around like white water roiling around outcroppings, to finish the ride looking behind you in wonder. How did I come to be in this position? You may start out believing the story is going one way, but you will be spun and spit out many a time in this new novel, whipsawed between ideas and feelings and concepts.

Each character in this book glows, and shifts and pulls us toward them, and at times repels us. We are drawn in and thrown out. Just when you think you are comfortable, settling in, sure of your assessment of Claire, or Liv, or even Claire’s son, just when you think you know them, you don’t.

Nothing is as it seems to be at first. Everything changes, or our perception of things, the people, their relationships, shift, with each snappy, well-paced scene. It is complex, and fast, and deeper than you may assume when you begin reading. Like the depth of a fast-moving river, which changes when boulders rise up to make the water swirl and eddy, rush into white, and recede to allow the water to slow down after a lazy curve to almost silent running, this book speeds, then slows, catches us, then tosses the reader back, stirs emotions, causes whiplash as scenes are revisited, layers added and stripped away.

You really do need a field guide for this one. Malone is a wonderful writer, and sights, smells, sounds, tastes, all the senses come into play as she takes us on a journey, and with great, deft skill leads us through the characters’misconceptions and missteps like a camp counselor leaping from stone to stone across a stream.

A Field Guide to Deception is a rare treat. When a debut novel like Red Audrey shows so much skill and promise, it is a pleasure to find a second novel as delightful and engaging as this one.

Jill Malone’s first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, won the Bywater Prize for Fiction. Her second, A Field Guide to Deception, won the 2010 Lambda award. One of the neat things about being a writer is that sometimes, you get to share your work with other writers, and they in turn share with you. I got a sneak peek at Malone’s next novel, Giraffe People. I think it is simply great reading.

Go out and buy this book and read it.

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