The best books with characters who can’t get their story straight

Who am I?

I love stories. No surprise, right? And the longer I’ve written, the more I realize just how many of my stories are about stories – either directly or indirectly. I’m fascinated by the way characters revise their own stories as they’re living them, or after they live them, usually in order to find a degree of peace that the truth simply doesn’t offer. I think the most interesting characters lie, deny, and revise not because they are conniving, not because they’re trying to get the upper hand on someone else, but rather in order to be able to live with themselves. 


I wrote...

The Fall of Lisa Bellow

By Susan Perabo,

Book cover of The Fall of Lisa Bellow

What is my book about?

After witnessing a classmate’s violent abduction, fourteen-year-old Meredith Oliver’s life changes overnight. Faced with a newfound popularity at school, and an already-struggling family attempting to help her through the trauma, Meredith retreats to a world of her own creation, revising the events of the kidnapping and joining the missing Lisa Bellow in a nightmarish fantasy. This is a family drama; the real mystery is not the crime itself, but the complex dynamics of what binds people together.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Atonement

Susan Perabo Why did I love this book?

Of all the characters on this list who have trouble keeping their stories straight, McEwan’s lead character Briony Tallis is the most conscious of her motives for keeping the truth at bay. A writer herself, Briony spends her life writing and revising everything that happens to her. The first time I reached the end of this novel, I immediately flipped back and read the last 10 pages again – I was so staggered by the conclusion that I simply couldn’t believe it was true. 

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Atonement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a…


Book cover of The Remains of the Day

Susan Perabo Why did I love this book?

Unlike Briony, English butler Mr. Stephens seems to have no idea that the story he tells the reader is full of profound, tragic, life-altering holes. He is so insistent upon his version of things that, even in moments where the reader thinks Stephens is finally about to achieve some clarity, he backs away from the truth because it is simply too painful to utter. Like all the other characters on this list, Mr. Stephens’ inability to get his story straight is a matter of self-preservation. This is one of the saddest books ever written.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Remains of the Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun is now available to preorder*

The Remains of the Day won the 1989 Booker Prize and cemented Kazuo Ishiguro's place as one of the world's greatest writers. David Lodge, chairman of the judges in 1989, said, it's "a cunningly structured and beautifully paced performance". This is a haunting evocation of lost causes and lost love, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change. Ishiguro's work has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Stevens, the long-serving butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on…


Book cover of Rebecca

Susan Perabo Why did I love this book?

Mrs. Maxim DeWinter is the new and naïve bride of a wealthy, charming, and clearly troubled man. Who can blame her for not knowing the truth about Rebecca, her husband’s late wife? Nobody tells her anything. What little information she is able to glean comes from people who clearly have a vested interest in keeping the facts hidden. So our narrator speculates endlessly, imagining and reimagining scenes to suit the most palatable version of the truth.

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

37 authors picked Rebecca as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 'The greatest psychological thriller of all time' ERIN KELLY
* 'One of the most influential novels of the twentieth century' SARAH WATERS
* 'It's the book every writer wishes they'd written' CLARE MACKINTOSH

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .'

Working as a lady's companion, our heroine's outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory…


Book cover of Lincoln in the Bardo

Susan Perabo Why did I love this book?

This novel famously features a cast of 166 narrators… and not a single one of them has any idea what’s happened to them. Again, it’s a question of self-preservation; they don’t want to know what’s going on, because what’s going on is this: they’re dead. This is not a spoiler. The reader knows the situation from the beginning, and thus the tension in the book is not about our discovery of the truth, but about theirs. This is a powerful and surprisingly uplifting book about trust and acceptance. 

By George Saunders,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Lincoln in the Bardo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH 'A masterpiece' Zadie Smith 'Extraordinary' Daily Mail 'Breathtaking' Observer 'A tour de force' The Sunday Times The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns…


Book cover of My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Susan Perabo Why did I love this book?

The depressed twenty-something narrator of this novel has an impossible time keeping her stories straight because she lies to literally everyone about literally everything. Even the title of the book is a lie! She is neither resting nor relaxing, but is instead doping herself into an unfeeling oblivion, sleeping 18-20 hours a day with the help of dozens of medications she monthly lies her way into getting from her negligent therapist. It’s hard to watch someone destroy themselves; sometimes, it’s also hard to look away. 

By Ottessa Moshfegh,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked My Year of Rest and Relaxation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, Time, NPR, Amazon,Vice, Bustle, The New York Times, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, The AV Club, & Audible

A New York Times Bestseller

"One of the most compelling protagonists modern fiction has offered in years: a loopy, quietly furious pillhead whose Ambien ramblings and Xanaxed b*tcheries somehow wend their way through sad and funny and strange toward something genuinely profound." - Entertainment Weekly

"Darkly hilarious . . . [Moshfegh's] the kind of provocateur who makes you laugh out loud while drawing blood." -Vogue

From one of our boldest,…


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These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

By Sarah Loudin Thomas,

Book cover of These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

Sarah Loudin Thomas Author Of These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Appalachian West virginian Dog lover Hiker

Sarah's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Seven years ago, a hidden betrayal scattered three friends living in the shadow of Biltmore Estate. Now, when Biltmore Industries master weaver Lorna Blankenship is commissioned to create an original design for Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 wedding, she panics knowing she doesn't have the creativity needed. But there's an elusive artisan in the Blue Ridge Mountains who could save her--if only she can find her.

To track the mysterious weaver down, Lorna must seek out the relationships she abandoned in shame. As she pulls at each tangled thread from her old life, Lorna is forced to confront the wounds of long ago. She'll have to risk the job that shapes her identity as well as the hope of friendship--and love--restored.

These Tangled Threads: A Novel of Biltmore

By Sarah Loudin Thomas,

What is this book about?

Seven years ago, a hidden betrayal scattered three young friends living in the shadow of Biltmore Estate. Now, when Biltmore Industries master weaver Lorna Blankenship is commissioned to create an original design for Cornelia Vanderbilt's 1924 wedding, she panics knowing she doesn't have the creativity needed. But there's an elusive artisan in the Blue Ridge Mountains who could save her--if only she can find her.

To track the mysterious weaver down, Lorna sees no other way but to seek out the relationships she abandoned in shame. As she pulls at each tangled thread from her old life, Lorna is forced…


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