Liar: A Memoir-by Rob Roberge
From early childhood, it was obvious that Rob Roberge was suffering from some kind of mental illness. He had difficulty sleeping, problems in school, and a genetic background which favored that predilection. From childhood, in his own home, he found it easy to consume alcohol and cigarettes and had his first experience as a little boy when he found butts and left over drinks in his basement after his parents had held a party. Sampling everything, he was overjoyed with the calmness that came over him. He quickly learned the benefits of drugs and it affected the rest of his life.
With parents who seemed to care about him, it is hard to fathom, for me, how his life got so out of hand. His father was familiar with narcotics and drugs because he was a trained pharmacist and later on a narcotics agent. I was surprised me that substance abuse was not more carefully monitored in his home. He seemed to be on his own much of the time, even though he was diagnosed as bipolar and had mood swings from manic to depressive that were uncontrollable and often led to psychotic episodes. At times, although he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, he could cover up his symptoms and pretend not to be an addict.
His life was rife with traumatic events. His childhood friend was murdered. Others committed suicide or died in tragic accidents. His friend’s mom seduced him when he was a teenager. His grandmother was a hoarder and his grandfather once shot her and wounded her with his rifle. They didn’t seem to have a strong hold on reality. His friends all seemed to march to a different drummer, engage in unsafe sex and experimental drugs. The title of the book is “Liar” and it is hard to believe all of these horrific incidents are the truth! Some, he admits he might be misremembering because of his blackouts and frequent manic episodes. He used drugs to quiet himself down and of course, he became addicted again and again. Even though he is bright and understands the consequences of his actions, he seemed to take little notice of anything but his own immediate need or gratification as he grew up and later on in life, whether it was regarding sexual conduct or escaping from his mania when it came upon him. He simply wanted to feel good, and he even found solace in causing his own pain by systematically cutting himself. Somehow, this calmed him and comforted him. He engaged in S&M, sadomasochistic sex for the same reason. Pain gave him a sort of pleasure and peace. He was outside the realm of normal in most of his activities.
His memoir is filled with information on the deaths of famous people or people who suffered from emotional and mental illness including CTE, which is a debilitating disease that results from repeated concussions. It is a disease that he was diagnosed with after his third, fourth or fifth concussion, he was never quite sure, but he continued to live his dangerous life and suffer more of them. He dwells on death and suicide but insists he wants to live, except for when he attempts to end his life because he is so far down in a depressive state.
Growing up, he played the guitar, and he still plays with a group called The Urinals. He also teaches writing classes, although, I cannot figure out how someone like him can be placed in a position of trust with young adults or old. He certainly is not the best example, even if he has cleaned up, because he suffered relapses. I think it was probably very helpful that at most of the most trying periods of his life he had friends who supported him and helped him to climb back up. I don’t blame him for his lifestyle. I think his mental illness had a lot to do with it. But, I truly think that there should have been a way to have more complete and wholesome supervision of his life, especially in his early years, so that he could have been set on a better track than he seemed to have chosen, alone, for himself.
There were times, as I read, that I found him almost proud of his dysfunction and at other times, I thought he was perhaps wallowing in self-pity from his destructive lifestyle and self inflicted injuries and behaviors. Most of his relationships were fly by night and short lived, casual and damaging to his psyche until he met his wife, Gayle. She seemed to have a more stabilizing influence on him than any other individual with whom he interacted, and with her love and respect for him, she seems to have been able to support him when he failed so that he could, once again, rise up and succeed.
The pages of the book turned themselves, even with the coarse descriptions of his escapades, which I found offensive. Such a skilled writer should not have had to shock his reader with filthy language. The timeline of the book bounces back and forth throughout the book, but somehow each segment complements the next. From his birth in 1966 to the approximate time the book ends, in 2014, he presents anecdotal incidents, sometimes repetitively, but they flow smoothly, one to another, and are never boring. Did the author deliberately create a disjointed narrative in order to illustrate how it feels to be him?
Was Roberge trying to show how it feels to be in a manic or depressive state by alternating the notices of death and illness with his experiences of high activity; was he showing the depressive vs. the manic? The book was never boring. It was hard to put down, but I was disappointed because there is no true ending. Is his message that he knows not where he goes from here? I was left with questions. How did a person who screwed up so much manage to get accepted to so many programs and get such a good higher education? It saddened me to think that someone so bright wasted so much of his life in a self-induced stupor that no one seemed to be able to help him control.
This book was a painful read because of the subject matter describing the author’s life and the language he used. He presents a nightmare scenario of the first half century of his life. He does not offer the reader hope for the future. He ends the book describing the time he attempted suicide and listened to the sound of silence around him, the sound of the world without him. Does that mean he intended to stick around to go on hearing the noise of life? It is several years since 2009, so I certainly hope so.
In the end, I felt that it was a shame that the author felt compelled to use such foul words to describe his experiences, especially regarding sex, with which he seemed obsessed, along with drugs and alcohol. I would never have read this had I not won it because for me, the language was a turnoff. Instead of arousing sympathy and interest, it sometimes aroused anger because someone so smart, with such a gift for writing, chose to dumb his book down to the lowest common denominator regarding language, perhaps eliminating a whole group of people who might otherwise choose to read it.
With “Liar” as the title, I did have to wonder which of the stories he questioned were real and which weren’t and which he believed were real, which were not, as well.
*** I received this uncorrected proof of the book as part of The Early Reviewers program of Library Thing.