Lies of the Heart
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Less than a month after Katie Burrelli asks her husband Nick to temporarily move out of their home, he is shot at point-blank range by one of his speech pathology clients, a mentally retarded man with the IQ of a ten-year-old child. Now Katie sits inside the courtroom flooded by memories of Nick and full of vengeance toward Jerry LaPlante, the client she once loved like a son.
Everything from Katie and Nick’s chance meeting to their whirlwind courtship seemed guided by fate—at least that’s how Katie felt at the time. Just twenty-two when they met, she had spent most of her life feeling like an outsider in her own family, long overshadowed by the successes of her beautiful and charismatic older sister, Dana. But with Nick, Katie thought she had finally met a kindred spirit and “understood, for the first time in her life, the possibility of not always feeling alone in the world” (p. 38).
Soon after their chance meeting, a film professor praised Katie and her “eye for reading people” (p. 49) and inspired her to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker. Ten years later—after harrowing days spent inside the courtroom—she seeks solace in this profession by reviewing footage of two Holocaust survivors whose young marriage blossomed inside the camps despite their lack of physical contact and the horrors they witnessed. But hearing Arthur and Sarah Cohen’s saga gradually points Katie toward her role in the failure of her own marriage, and the moments that led up to Nick’s death.
Jerry LaPlante, a giant yet vulnerable man, was regarded as one of Nick’s most successful cases—until he astonished everyone by turning a gun on Nick. Jerry had been brutally abused by his birth mother and he arrived at the Warwick Center with painful speech deficiencies and a debilitating fear of God’s vengeful presence, which appeared in everything from thunderstorms and cigarettes to a birthday cake blazing with candles. Because of Jerry’s disturbing past and his distrust of men, Nick was unable to coax him to participate in their therapy sessions. But then the program director, seeing Jerry’s fascination with Katie when she visited the center, enlisted Katie to reach out to Jerry; with her gentle encouragement and Nick’s persistence, they quickly became surrogate parents to the troubled thirty-eight-year-old man. Eventually, with his own room in their house and weekends and holidays spent together, Jerry flourished under their care.
But Nick and Katie’s marriage was not thriving nearly as well. Nick resented Katie’s emotionally stronger connection to Jerry, which fueled his professional insecurities; he frequently lashed out at her with criticism and verbal abuse that increased Katie’s questions about Nick’s past and added to her own doubts about herself and the true nature of their relationship. And while Nick’s fervent apologies and their impassioned lovemaking helped Katie feel empowered and reassured of Nick’s love, it was clear their problems went deeper than the usual marital tiffs. After Nick’s murder, Katie vows to help the prosecution convict Jerry, whose best interests she’d always promised to protect¬¬. But as she pushes forward and tries to dismiss the tender relationship she once shared with Jerry, she becomes more ensnared with questions and uncertainties about her marriage, Jerry’s reasons for killing a man they both loved, and her own murky responsibility in Nick’s death.
Delving into the tangled truth behind a young widow’s grief, Lies of the Heart will resonate with readers of Jodi Picoult and Luanne Rice, and marks debut novelist Michelle Boyajian as a stunning new voice in women’s fiction.
- Do you believe birth order informed or affected Katie’s strained relationship with Dana and their parents?
- Is an unexpected pregnancy reason enough to get married? What would a baby have done for Katie and Nick’s relationship?
- Do sex and physical attraction enhance or interfere with love?
- What role does Sandy play in the novel? Why is Katie drawn to women like Jill and Sandy?
- What do you think about Arthur and Sarah’s decision to die together? How would you feel if you were Ben?
- At what point did you realize that Katie wasn’t a wholly reliable narrator?
- Would Nick have returned to Katie if Jerry had not intervened? Would Katie have ever been able to see the truth about her unhealthy obsession with Nick if he had?
- How was your opinion of Katie affected by knowing about the shoes she secretly allowed Jerry to demolish?
- Although he won Katie’s trust, Richard is ultimately interested in securing Jerry’s conviction—even if it means betraying her. Is he just doing his job, or is there something unethical about his behavior?
- Was Nick any happier or more secure than Katie? How culpable was he in the breakup of their marriage?
- Katie is just twenty-two and Nick is twenty-five when they get married, and one gets the impression that their marriage is at least partly sundered by their youth. Yet, Arthur and Sarah met when they were at least as young. Has the ideal age for a person to marry—like the average human lifespan itself—gone up over the course of the twentieth century?
- How much responsibility should someone of diminished mental capacity bear after committing a crime?