Justine Larbalestier’s enthralling novel Liar features unreliable protagonist, Micah Wilkins, dealing with issues of identity and truth. I have come to realise, through studying Larbalestier’s novel, that the ideas of truth and identity can be extensively challenged, that lies can become someone’s identity. Micah’s cryptic character has forced me to question what I trust and who I think I am. I have been faced with rethinking my views on sexuality, gender roles, guilt and the real meaning of ‘truth’ due to Micah’s questionable and unpredictable words.
Due to society’s restrictive and sexist attitudes towards what is considered male or female, people who don’t fit neatly into a category face issues of identity and belonging. Micah’s relationship with her sexuality and how she perceives gender roles is extraordinarily untidy and indecisive. Being a teenage feminist myself, I can identify with Micah not desiring to subscribe to gender roles although I’m not entirely sure Micah is avoiding acting and looking conventionally ‘feminine’ because of feminist views.
I believe Micah is genderqueer or transgender and too afraid to embrace it because it is a hard truth for her to face, “Being a boy was fast becoming my favourite lie” (p. 8). When Micah talks about her taking the pill to supress her periods she says “I wish I was a man” and that “[Her mother] thought having your period was what made you a woman” (p. 57). Perhaps Larbalestier is implying that Micah is not a woman because she doesn’t experience menstruation?
Being a woman comes with oppression no matter what class or race you are in; this oppression is more often than not related to sex. Micah constantly refers to being called a ‘slut’ by her peers, “By kissing [Sarah and Tayshawn] first I confirmed the thousand slut calls…” (p. 238). I believe there is a part of Micah that subconsciously oppresses herself. Right after Micah tells the reader she never slept with Zach she said, “See? I am a good girl after all” (p. 116).
This tells me that Micah believes being a ‘good girl’ is not having sex- this only emphasises my suspicion that Micah desires to be a man because men are free of the ‘slut’ label. She has desires that she feels she can’t pursue without judgement due to her being a biological woman. Identity can be formed from the constructed truth and straight-out lies; people can create their own realities. “[The worst danger of being a liar] is when you start to believe your own lies” (p. 194).
Micah’s story suggests that when you begin to believe your own lies, it shapes who you are and becomes your ‘truth’. I believe Jordan’s death contributed to Micah’s muddled identity, that his death was so traumatic that she created a world of her own to escape the reality. I believe that Micah was responsible for her brother’s death because of how she refers to him: vile, horrible and awful. Micah depicts Jordan as being this way so it’s easier for her to deal with her guilt, “…maybe the world is better the way I tell it” (p. 34), “We don’t talk about [Jordan’s death]. I can’t think about it” (p. 284).
My assumption with this theory was formed by my own experiences. Whenever I have lost something of value, I told myself that it wasn’t that great or important anyway which resulted in less guilt and unhappiness; we lie to ourselves in hope of finding protection from confronting notions. Perhaps the reality Micah has formed for herself actually becomes reality, her truth. Society has conditioned us to accept certain pieces of information without questionning whether it really is the truth.
More than with any other work of fiction I have read, Liar led me to question whether what the protagonist said was true. In the first part of the novel ‘Telling The Truth’, Micah is supposedly being honest and sincere with the reader when she reveals she is a liar; this idea in itself is problematic and intensely complicated. The way Larbalestier has written Liar challenged me, for the first time, to question why I believe what I do; why did this particular work of fiction spark such a notion, such a feeling of distrust and uncertainty?
Should I have these feelings with everything I read? Whilst talking about her ability to spin detailed lies, Micah says “It’s odd how often telling the truth feels like lying and lying like the truth” (p. 53). I believe this can be reversed and applied to the reader: it’s easier to believe lies and reject truth. Constantly throughout the novel, Micah reassures the reader that she isn’t lying and that she’s a ‘good girl’; this shows that she is trying to convince herself of those things and using the reader as a distraction, a scapegoat.
Micah also sounds condescending and makes the reader feel small by saying things like “You buy everything, don’t you? You make it too easy” (p. 225). This directly links back to the idea that Larbalestier is forcing the reader to evaluate why we trust and believe what we do. Every story has an underlying moral, intentional or not, and I believe Liar’s is ‘Don’t believe everything you read’. Liar has addressed many ideas and issues such as society’s view towards gender roles, identities created by one’s self, and being accepting of certain information despite the validity being possibly compromised.
Larbalestier has made me question more about my values and beliefs than I thought possible. I’ve formed the belief that lies are a part of all of us, unintentionally or otherwise – they become our truth. Micah has made me think about why we as humans try so hard to seek the truth and then lie to ourselves when it’s too unbelievable. Larbalestier’s open-to-interpretation styled-writing is almost metaphorical in relation to life. No truth is absolute, nothing is exactly what it seems and everything is affected by an individual’s perception.