By Paul Gessell
Linden MacIntyre has seen it all: War, bloodshed, and corruption, in his long career as a CBC journalist.
Thus, this tough-guy, Giller-Prize-winning author is not very shockable. But shocked he looked when, during an interview about his latest novel Why Men Lie, he was asked to reveal the biggest lie he ever told. He skated around that question like a hockey player trying to break through his opponent’s defence line.
Why Men Lie is the third in a trilogy of novels about some extended families rooted in Cape Breton, the original island home of the Toronto-based MacIntyre. The second in the trilogy, The Bishop’s Man, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2009. That book focussed on a priest forced to cover up sex crimes by fellow priests. Why Men Lie focuses on that priest’s sister, Effie, and the many lying men in her life.
MacIntyre discussed Why Men Lie, his own lies, and the never ending battle between the sexes in an interview before his scheduled April 26 appearance at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Here is an edited transcript of that discussion:
Has there been any feedback from men unhappy with Why Men Lie?
I haven’t had any direct challenge. I have had a younger guy approaching middle age say, “I know what you are talking about.” You see all around you in society this celebration of the crasser, baser, more primitive aspect of masculinity. It stands to reason men at middle age have to change the sense of what they are.
The men in your book tend to tell lies, not to be downright deceitful, but to hide something they don’t want to share.
Why do we do this? We do that because we fear the disclosure is going to limit us in some way, limit our access to an objective or a need. You want something from a woman – and we always do, it seems – you want to present yourself as worthy of her confidence and trust and affection.
What is the great big lie you told in your life?
(A long pause here.) I don’t know if there were any great big ones. (Another long, uncomfortable pause.) Every lie is different. I think there’s someone in the book who says morality lies in motivation. So, there are lies that are told for good reasons. There are lies that are told for crass reasons. So, you tell a lie to someone to protect them from the consequence of the truth when the truth is not necessarily that vital to their lives. The big lie I told? “I didn’t do it,” when I had done it. Or, “I’m not going to do it,” when I did do it.
Don’t we learn as children that we can manipulate people by lying to them?
It starts with Mom. You don’t want Mom to punish you or you want Mom to give you something that Mom is not planning to give you. So, you massage Mom by feeding her the information in a way that’s calculated to get what you want. It establishes a sense of the power of manipulated truth, whether it’s lies or just exaggeration. A young man wanting to get sex will say, “I love you; I’ve never known anybody like you; you are absolutely, like, amazing.”
Do men lie more than women?
I think so and for more substantive reasons. Women will lie to get stuff. Men will lie to get stuff in a more systematic way. Approaching middle age and at middle age, I think, that’s when the deception starts to get more urgent because there are so many things at middle age that call out for reassurance of one’s value. There are things you don’t take for granted any more. You have to be reassured by somebody else it doesn’t matter if you’re overweight, it doesn’t matter if gravity has bent you over or the hair is gone, it doesn’t mater if the sex response is no longer as interesting.
Linden MacIntyre appears at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 26 at 8:30 p.m., at Knox Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $15. For information, visit www.writersfestival.org.