All the Beautiful Lies // by Peter Swanson

//published 2018//

Sometimes I read books and I literally can’t decide how to rate them because the book has left me feeling so conflicted.  This is definitely one of those books, as I’ve ranged anywhere from 2 to 4 stars.

The pros:

  • I couldn’t put this book down.  I read it in basically one day, reading snippets (yay short chapters!) whenever I could.
  • The writing is excellent, with perfect pacing.
  • The use of past and present timelines really, really works with this book, adding to the tension and working to perfectly change the reader’s perception of various characters.

The cons:

  • Basically, this book is about sex.  Virtually every relationship explored is a sexual one.  While the book isn’t super explicit, it’s still, in my mind, the main theme since it is the driving force between almost every pair of people in this story, no matter who you draw the lines between.
  • The majority of the sexual relationships in this book are between people with inappropriate age gaps.  While most of them aren’t necessarily adult/minor relationships, they nearly ALL begin that way, with the younger person being emotionally groomed by the older person.  I was extremely uncomfortable with the “we’re consenting adults” attitude, when one of the adults is barely 18 and the other is over 25 years older.
  • The ending was really weird to me, and I didn’t like it.

So I guess at the end of the day, my rating based on the actual writing is a confident 4*.  My rating based on the subject material is more like 2*.  And I feel like I should clarify that Swanson wasn’t presenting these relationships as positives (although he didn’t always present them as specifically negative, either).  In a way, he was pointing out the way these types of relationships cycle through generations.  I think I would have been okay with it in that sense if it had just been two relationships, like one when a person was the younger part of the pair and then later when that person was the older part of the pair, because it would have made more sense.  But instead there are at least five different scenarios, not counting the ones that are mentioned off-handedly as part of one person’s past where this person was involved with multiple young people/minors.  That was just too much for me.  And it wasn’t even the age gap that got me as much as the creepy way that the older person manipulated things to make sure they could be with the younger person, and then groomed that person to become their lover ICK.

On the flip side, I really wanted to see where things were going in this book.  I had some theories and ideas, some of which were right and some of which weren’t.  I loved the way that Swanson cleverly manipulated my feelings about the present timeline by giving me something in a character’s past timeline to make me readjust my overall thinking and feelings about them.

This isn’t a book that I would ever reread, but I’m still keeping Swanson on my radar.  I really enjoyed The Girl With a Clock for a Heart when I read it last year, and have every intention of picking up more of Swanson’s books in the future.