Jill Bialosky’s The Deceptions
(Counterpoint Press, 2022)
In her latest novel, The Deceptions, Jill Bialosky (History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life) explores the cost of desire with an unnamed female protagonist on the quest for freedom and hope.
The woman’s personal life is rocky with a marriage that seems to be slowly falling apart and a husband who doesn’t understand her. Her work baffles him, as does her entire existence. He often tells the woman she’s in her world, which to be fair, is true. She thinks a lot about many things, especially the issues in her marriage: the relationship between her and this curious Visiting Poet from the school where she teaches and the possible infidelity between her husband and a woman he chats online with, referred to only as the Russian Bride. But the woman is also concerned about her son who is in college, drinking too much and flunking philosophy, and worried about her elderly mother who has dementia and can no longer do simple tasks without the help of a nurse.
At times, it can be heavy, pushing through all this interiority. Time can stop when the protagonist sits with her thoughts while looking at various paintings and sculptures in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The reader may wonder where this will all lead, as very little plot movement takes place at given moments, but the writing is superb and specific while the character is real and interesting, which promises something worth finishing to the end.
Bialosky has a way of inserting information in her text with such precision and authority that’s hard not to be admired while reading. As the woman speaks about Greek sculptures and Egyptian tombs, she often ties in revelations of her own life, a quick jab to let you know she’s still there with you.
Farther north in the gallery is a statue of an Amazon woman, depicted in Greek art as often battling Heracles, Theseus, and Achilles. Her hair looks as if it is shaped into a helmet. She bleeds under her right breast from battle or self-mutilation. I’m not sure. I clutch my own breast. My wound.
The woman is grieving the loss of the world she once knew when her son was still at home, her mother still healthy, and her husband still attentive. But she also mourns the loss of a daughter, the lost twin to her son who died long ago, and the miscarriages she encountered before having a healthy child. The sadness she feels and the anxiety of the possibility of more to come are all-consuming for her and the reader, making this woman’s vulnerability heartbreaking but relatable.
Amid so many personal dilemmas, she is also grappling with her work as a poet, on the brink of another book being published, and still wondering if she has what it takes to be a writer—“Even after publishing in established literary magazines, two critically acclaimed books, the doubts still creep in”—while trying to teach high school students at an all-boys school the importance to observe rather than simply dominate like the men before them.
Bialosky is a master of the craft and shows off her talents in this latest work. It is a story about deception in all forms, but it’s also about acceptance and forgiving yourself so there is room for hope.