He sat in my office, crying. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, he said. She was fun to talk to, knew the score, knew he was married, a father. It wasn’t such a big deal. They were on the road, a big contract, and afterward, naturally, a bunch of them were celebrating. Sometimes they went a little far—lots of drinking at the parties and people were always doing lines. What are you going to do? They worked hard and then they played hard. What happens on the road stays there, right? She always acted like she was having a great time, one of the guys. So why was she all of a sudden saying these things about him?
She sat in my office, crying. He had used her. She’d worked just as hard as he did on those contracts, but nobody ever heard about her part. The sex was all his idea but she went along with it because he expected it. He got the bonus and the promotions, and then there were the parties—and did I know about the coke? And now there were layoffs coming and it looked like she was the one who wasn’t making her quotas and she just thought I needed to know what happened. She’d talked it over with her sister and her friends and they told her it was sexual harassment and she should file a complaint with HR, maybe even get a lawyer.
I did my job as head of Human Resources and officially investigated and gave them written copies of the policies they’d already signed off on—and then violated. I reminded them of the training we’d already been through together, and really, really wondered for the thousandth time just how successful our company would be if everyone put the time and energy they spent lying and cheating and scheming into just doing their damn jobs. Really, wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier?
This little scenario played out in many permutations over my years in HR. I asked all the usual questions, made the tough decisions, saw people lose their families and their jobs, and I never got to ask the two questions that seemed most obvious. Question 1: Wouldn’t it be easier to just be honest and do your job? And Question 2: WTF were you thinking? (We know already what you were thinking with.) And yes, I knew the truth. But if I fired everyone who had ever schemed, cheated, lied,and bullied, our next payroll was going to be extremely small indeed. And I would probably not be on it either.
When I thought about how hard it is to be a productive employee and maintain a relationship, let alone be a parent, a friend, a family member, and part of a community as well, it was stunning that anyone could possibly have to time and energy to also lie, cheat, and plot. But so many did. A lot.
Why? Because everyone is the hero of their own story, and most will do whatever it takes to stay that way.
A couple of recent articles in Psychology Today examined the reasons people lie, even when they don’t need to. In one article, Dr. Bella dePaolo examines what makes people lie to you in particular. In another one, Dr. David J. Ley offers six reasons for lying even when it seems unnecessary:
- The lie does matter … to them. [For reasons you might not know, having their audience believe the lie is more important than telling the truth.]
- Telling the truth feels like giving up control.
- They don’t want to disappoint you. [They admire you, they’re scared of you, or they think you’re unable to handle the truth.]
- Lies snowball. [The liar keeps adding, because admitting any part is untrue questions their entire credibility.]
- It’s not a lie to them.
- They want it to be true.
In my Human Resources role, my response was not to challenge the lies, but to try to figure out the reasons for them. And yes, while I’ve met pathological liars—they DO exist outside of thrillers—the truth is that most people are mostly honest. Even politicians. So the lies they tell (for whichever of the above reasons) are because they ‘honestly’ believe they have a justification which outweighs the truth.
And I’m grateful to every one of them for showing me how to be the writer I’m trying to become. The two questions I learned to ask in HR are the two that I ask of characters in my writing:
- Why is this so important to you?
- What would you want me to do about this situation?
Of course now I tell lies for a living. I spend my time ruining people’s relationships, costing their jobs, destroying their lives. I’m a writer. What’s your excuse?
Buster & Moo by Geoff Le Pard
With their relationship under pressure, is adopting a dog the best decision for Mervin and Landen? As they adapt to fit the animal into their busy lives a chance encounter with Dave and Sheri, the dog’s previous owners, develops into something more and the newfound friendship is tested to the limits.
Life is complicated when Landen loses her job following the discovery of her affair with a colleague and then she becomes involved in a police investigation into alleged money laundering and drug dealing at her old firm. She tries desperately to keep the sordid truth from Mervin as events begin to spiral out of control.
As the four lives overlap and criss-cross the one constant is their shared love of the dog named Moo. But the problems mount up. While Sheri and Mervin grow close as they struggle to help each other, it is the unlikely alliance between Sheri and Landen that leads to the dramatic climax. However, there is only room for one hero in this story – who will it be?
In the movie Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis’ character asks several people to explain why men cheat, refining her question each time until she demands to know why men need more than one woman. The answer she’s looking for (because she already knows it) is that they fear death, and by extension, they fear dying before they’ve “won” at life.
Buster & Moo, author Geoff Le Pard’s new literary thriller, is about liars, as well as cowards, cheaters, failures, and criminals—the kind who are heroes. Why? Because everyone is the hero of their own story, and most will do whatever it takes to stay that way. And because sometimes, the ones who lie to those they love so they can look like heroes—and the ones who try to lie to themselves so they can feel like heroes—find to their own shock that all that lying pays off and they are actually the ones who step up to become the heroes.
What were you expecting here? You want a story about unconditional love? Get a dog.
In fact, that’s just what Landon and Mervin decide to do. Neither can talk about their disappointment and depression following Landon’s miscarriages and Mervin’s failed writing career. She plunges herself into her legal career and a meaningless love affair. Mervin—whose name alone would have ensured regular schoolyard beatings where I come from—struggles with his depression, weight gain, and sense of failure in having Landon as the main breadwinner. In a beer-fueled discussion in which the men are able to discuss infidelity but not infertility, Mervin’s brother Giles tells him, “Get a dog. Someone who’s devoted to you and it’ll get you fit, too.”
Meanwhile, Dave and Sheri, a young couple whose demographics, bad luck, and worse decisions have led to insurmountable problems, are forced to give up their beloved dog Buster. Adopted by Mervin and a reluctant Landon, the dog is poshly renamed Mottram, or Moo for short.
I couldn’t figure out exactly where they all live (somewhere in England for sure) but judging by the way people are constantly running into each other and overlapping their lives, there are about sixteen people in the entire town. So a meeting between new and former owners is virtually inevitable. Given each character’s fundamental inability to communicate in general and to tell the truth in particular (especially to themselves), they are soon embroiled in rapidly spiraling lies involving drugs, cheating, and betrayal. In fact , the only one who behaves consistently well is Buster/Moo.
But here is the surprise and the genius of this book. As the mess deepens—the danger of exposure, physical harm, and even death looms—their steadfast hero dog is joined by his four flawed and damaged liars, each of whom must find a way to accept—however briefly—their own call to heroism.
When I review a novel, I look at the setting, the pace, the plot, and the writing in general. And all of those are well done here. The “somewhere in England” town is British-perfect, while the unsubtle social differences in language, names, and attitudes clearly separate the struggling working class couple Sheri and Dave from the affluently upscale Mervin and Landon. I was grateful for the initial slow pace, which gave the reader a chance to get to know the four main characters, but it sped up until moving at breathtaking speed as the crisis approached. And the writing itself was amusing, with clever word pictures painting secondary characters and settings.
But the real piece that I look for in a book is its characters, and especially whether they change, grow, or otherwise develop over their story arc. Author Geoff LePard’s particular genius with Buster & Moo is that his four characters each find their own way to change, grow, and step up to meet their individual calls to momentary heroism—all without ever becoming anyone other than their flawed original selves. For me, that’s an achievement that deserves every one of five stars. If you like character-driven literary fiction that strays deliberately into thriller territory, then I recommend Buster & Moo.
Book Title: Buster & Moo
Author: Geoff Le Pard
Genre: Literary fiction
Length: 300 pages
Release Date: Amazon (15 July 2017)
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