My teenager came home today excited about a major disagreement in her senior high school English class. Is it okay to lie? Is it acceptable to lie to prevent harming someone? Or absolutely, categorically never?
What do you do? I asked her.
The truth is, when you write dialogue in fiction (or when you listen, really listen) to how people use language, you quickly realize the lines of truth are blurry – in fact, remarkably unclear.
At seventeen, my daughter sees herself as mistress of her own fate, and while I certainly don’t want to unsteady my girl, I encourage her to keep her hands steady on the wheel. Listen, I urge: that unbelievably difficult challenge I butt up against, over and over. Listen.
I’m reading Margot Livesey’s Mercury in these early, dark mornings. Here’s a few lines from a previous novel:
If someone tells you a lie, they’re not telling you the truth, but they are telling you something. It just takes longer to figure out what.
– Margot Livesey, The House on Fortune Street