Author Interview: Linden MacIntyre on his newest novel, Why Men Lie

The long-awaited follow-up to Linden MacIntyre’s novel The Bishop’s Man officially launches tomorrow, and the Giller Prize–winning author recently spoke to Bookclub-in-a-Box about his new book, Why Men Lie, which offers a moving and emotionally complex conclusion to the Cape Breton trilogy.

Why Men Lie takes place two years after the events of The Bishop’s Man. We’re introduced to Effie MacAskill Gillis, sister of the troubled priest Duncan. It’s 1997, and Effie is an independent, middle-aged woman working as a tenured professor of Celtic Studies, but her complicated and often disappointing love life has left her all but ready to give up on the opposite sex. Then suddenly, a chance encounter with a man on a Toronto subway platform gives Effie renewed hope. J.C. Campbell is an old friend she hasn’t seen for more than 20 years—an attractive, single man who appears to possess the stability and good sense she longs for.

After all of her experience in relationships with men, Effie thought she knew all she needed to about what to expect, and how to maintain her self-sufficiency. Why do men lie?, she wants to know. But whether it’s for love, for protection, or for more selfish reasons, Effie soon learns that no amount of experience can prepare you for what might resurface from the past, and for the damage that might cause, emotionally or otherwise.

Bookclub-in-a-Box: After winning the Giller Prize for The Bishop’s Man, you were quoted in the media as saying about this new book, “I’m interested in the woman’s point of view as she watches the men around her getting older and stupider.” Why the gender divide? Do you think Effie, and other women in this trilogy, tell similar lies to protect themselves?

Linden MacIntyre: I think there is a real gender divide that favours men throughout early life, from teens to middle age. I think that at middle age women become wiser, more independent. Men tend to become more fearful, and in response, inclined to look for reassurance about matters that are important to them—virility, personal security, appearance—that sometimes cause them to behave stupidly. And of course women also tell lies, but for different reasons.

How did you decide where to take this third story, and whose story to tell, after publishing The Long Stretch and The Bishop’s Man?

I’ve been carrying the idea around for many years, trying to figure out a way to turn it into a story: men at middle age become obsessive about impotence—not just sexual, but the loss of influence and control and turn to women for reassurance. Stupid men turn to younger women. The smart ones… don’t.

What was the most challenging part of writing this novel from a woman’s perspective?

Not so much finding the voice, but finding the confidence to persevere with the voice and the perceptions.

A noticeable number of scenes in the book involve characters drinking scotch and other booze while they talk. Is there an intended connection between their drinking and the amount of lying and frustration in their lives?

I don’t think so. In fact, I believe that truth is more likely to emerge under the influences of alcohol and frustration. For people of a certain age and from a certain cultural background, alcohol is a fairly normal part of social interaction and/or private reflection.

Other than Effie, which character did you find the most interesting to write about in this book, and why?

Stella. And I’d rather not say why.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?

I think a good book becomes part of the consciousness of the reader and therefore has a variety of messages for almost everyone. As a reader of my own book, engaged in a discussion of its meaning, I’d emphasize that notwithstanding its focus and its voice, which is that of a woman and a woman’s sensibility, it’s essentially a “guy book.”

You recently took part in a CBC Radio show where you read aloud prose from listeners who had purposely broken Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules for Writing Fiction”—for example, misusing regional dialect, or overusing exclamation points. Do you have any of your own rules for writing?

To write in the active voice as much as is possible because it conveys clarity, and clarity requires work above and beyond the writing.

You’ve won the Giller Prize, an Emmy, and a number of Gemini Awards for your work as a writer and a journalist. Are there any other career goals or personal goals that you aspire to for the future?

I don’t think awards/rewards amount to achievement of goals. Rather they are events over which one has limited control and so tell us very little of substance about ourselves or what we do. The career goal is, as it has always been, to write well about what matters and to be heard.

Now that you’ve concluded your Cape Breton trilogy, what will your next book be about? Are you planning another novel?

It’s a novel about the violent consequences of ethical compromise, set in a rural place that could be Cape Breton.

Is there any book you love that you wish you had written yourself?

Amongst Women, by John McGahern.

——

Does your book club need a list of discussion questions for Why Men Lie? Click here for questions prepared by Bookclub-in-a-Box for Random House of Canada.

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