When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.
As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Darkly funny and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.
Rob Roberge is naturally good at storytelling, and man, does he have a story to tell. As the title suggests, he’s always told stories in one form or another, and often had to make up stories for himself or rely on other people’s just to make sense of his life. This memoir, however, is a collection of truth — a desperate attempt to clarify and preserve what he hopes are the truest recollections of his most pivotal moments.
Reading this book almost feels like an invasion of Roberge’s mind. He is completely open about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, which screw up his already severely bipolar brain. Reading the book, I felt, was the closest thing to taking a peek inside his head, and it’s not pretty. His constant struggle for control over his own brain colors every moment of his life — how he feels emotion, how he perceives other people, and how he makes decisions. His words pulled me down into his head, but even with his excellent writing, I’ll never know exactly what it’s like to have to work as hard as he does just to function.
As sad as his story is, I am thankful that Roberge spent the time and energy needed to write and publish this memoir. In addition to being a fascinating read, I believe that it’s an extremely good example of how mental illness works, and can definitely be used to show that mental illness isn’t a choice; that it’s something that Roberge had to learn to live with. Readers can take away an inkling of what it’s like to live with mental illness, and hopefully come away from the book with a better understanding of how to support those with illnesses like Roberge’s.
In short, it’s a somewhat depressing read, because many pivotal moments in Roberge’s life weren’t happy ones. But it’s extremely well-written, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in knowing how other people think.
I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.