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Liar

by Lynn Crosbie

Toronto-based writer and teacher Lynn Crosbie’s latest book is a long poem chronicling the disintegration of a relationship. As such, Liar is generically related to such high-profile works as Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband and Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters.

Some similarities to the former are too close: the unnamed lover in Crosbie’s book is, like Carson’s “husband,” a beautiful liar; both characters are writers (a link to Birthday Letters as well); Crosbie’s pattern of alternating short and long lines is similar to Carson’s; and Crosbie’s speaker makes reference to the work as a “tango” toward the end, as does Carson. Like Birthday Letters, Liar is transparently autobiographical. The speaker’s name is Lynn and the publisher calls this “deeply confessional work” Crosbie’s “most personal” book – something of a departure for her, as much of her previous work is written in the voices of various personae.

The real problem, though, is that Liar is wildly uneven. There are a few shining moments, but on the whole it is simultaneously desultory and overwrought. Surprisingly cool in tone, Crosbie’s narrative lacks the intellectual ambition of Carson’s and the emotional intensity of Hughes’s. Most of the language is distinctly low-wattage. When Crosbie does occasionally crank things up a notch, melodramatic overwriting becomes a problem, as in the smattering of quasi-epic similes she uses, whose effect can be accidentally hilarious. Crosbie’s free-verse lineation is really arbitrarily broken prose, the only justification for which is to conceal the narrative anemia that would probably be more obvious in justified lines.

The book has a self-indulgent feel, always a risk with the confessional mode. The narrative is larded with details and facts that might be of some consequence to the characters and are perhaps reflective of actual events, but have little or no relevance to the pith of the matter – resulting in a “surfeit of information,” as Crosbie herself puts it. The narration is deeply self-referential and the book simply goes on too long. Crosbie sums it up when she writes that the “narrative is tragic, but static” and “I write poems I would not like to read, and am not alone in this opinion.”