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Feb. 27—Blame the girls. Or, more precisely, the "Girls" — as in "Gone Girl" and "The Girl On the Train." Those two novels, by Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, respectively, are generally regarded as the thrillers that launched the incredibly successful "unreliable narrators" concept that continues to creep like Buffalo grass across bookstore shelves and bestseller lists.
In the sustained jet trail from the "Girls," dozens of similarly structured mysteries — wherein the reader can't trust the narrators to necessarily tell the truth — have been published and also established full-time careers for their authors.
Carola Lovering has joined the fray with her entrancing, bait-and-switch (and bait-again) new book called "Too Good to Be True," which is out Tuesday. It's her second novel after a more traditional thriller, "Tell Me Lies." In fact, with "Too Good to Be True," Lovering, who guests Wednesday in a virtual conversation for The Day's "Read of The Day" book club, didn't actually set out to use the multiple (and possibly unreliable) narrators format; she wondered whether the genre already was too saturated.
Do the twist
"Like everyone else, I loved 'Gone Girl' and 'The Girl On the Train,' and I love the idea of the unreliable narrator," Lovering says. She's on the phone from her house in Darien, talking while her husband, Rob, watches their 6-month-old son, James.
"I'm not tired of unreliable narrators yet, even though I know it's overdone. Still, I wanted to write one because it seemed like it's a hard thing to do to come up with those twists. And now, you have to come up with new twists and new ways to present the twists. And the idea of trying it was fascinating to me. At the same time, I was nervous."
What readers will discover in "Too Good to Be True" is that Lovering does a fine job weaving the shocks into a complex knot.
The narrative ricochets between several principal characters centered around Skye Starling and a charming older man, Burke Michaels, who asks her to marry him. Early on, readers discover complicated layers to each of these characters. Someone's not being completely honest here, and the situation is further complicated by Heather, whose story is told in flashback from several years earlier when she was similarly entranced by the much-younger Burke.
And wait! How do Libby and Andie fit into this spiraling puzzle? As the press materials tantalizingly suggest: "One love story. Two marriages. Three versions of the truth!"
A little help along the way
The novel delivers in a big way, and Lovering is quick to admit she had some help.
"The author gets all the credit, but in my case, my editor, Sarah Cantin, and my agent, Allison Hunter, were definitely factors," Lovering says. "I had the idea for the story, and I knew what the big twist would be. It was something I believed would shock readers and flip them on their heads. I mean, you never know, but it felt right. After that, though, while I knew what I wanted to do, my editor and agent were helpful in adding and readjusting some twists in later revisions."
She says Hunter and Cantin provided wise counsel in terms of pacing and structure and agreed with Lovering that the additional twists were needed. Lovering says, "I have even more respect for the authors who successfully do this all the time, because twists are really hard to come up with, and the smaller but very important ones were added in later revisions at the suggestions of my editor and my agent. You know: 'Add a small twist here; move that reveal back a bit for great surprise' — that kind of thing. And if you work at it, it gets easier. You sort of learn how to think ahead and see how new twists might work."
Those familiar with the grind of publishing might suggest Lovering has been familiar with twists all along. A native of Westchester County, N.Y., who graduated from Colorado College and then settled in Darien, Lovering first considered a career in the editorial side of the book industry before she became a writer. As such, through a family connection, she interviewed an editor at a New York publishing house to find out about the business.
Years later, after she'd written her first novel, when Lovering was getting scores of rejections from literary agents and having little luck, she remembered her earlier meeting about publicity with the editor. Realizing she was reverse-engineering the process, but somewhat desperate, she wrote and reintroduced herself to the editor — Cantin — and asked her to take a look at the manuscript even though Lovering didn't have an agent. Cantin remembered Lovering, asked to see the material, and, impressed by the work, recommended some agents who might be a good fit for representation. Ultimately, Lovering landed an agent and the book, "Tell Me Lies," indeed sold to Cantin.
"Too Good to Be True" is the first of a new two-book deal for Lovering, and while she's a bit superstitious about discussing plot before publication, she did write the bulk of the next book over the course of what might be called The Year of Covid. She was also pregnant, with her first child due in August, so Lovering knew she had to write with incredible focus.
"Maybe that was a silver lining to the virus," she says. "All of our plans were cancelled, and we couldn't go out, so I was able to be really productive. Plus, I knew once the baby arrived, it would be really difficult to write if I hadn't finished the first draft. Revisions? That could be arranged."
Lovering did finish the first draft before James was born and was able to finish the second draft's revisions by November.
"My husband and I obviously focused on the baby in the early months, when we were learning to be parents," she says. "We couldn't have any incoming help because of the virus, and my husband was and is wonderful in allowing me periods to work. I was able to chip away at the book in short bursts of productivity, and it's working. Plus, you know, I think we all felt the darkness of politics beyond the virus, so getting to write fiction and focus on our first child were really nice respites."