Rob Roberge is the author of the novels The Cost of Living, Drive, and More Than They Could Chew and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life. He's the guitarist for the seminal punk band The Urinals. He lives in the Southern California desert, near Los Angeles.
“I’ve never read a book more intimately devoted to articulating how tenuous our hold on identity is. Identity is made, unmade, remade by chasing memory, and memory is a series of emotional intensities we barely survive. We make up stories of ourselves to bear the weight of our actual lives. We live between those stories and events coming at us like catastrophic meteors. And yet, mercifully and sporadically, love comes. Read Rob Roberge’s memoir, Liar. Because life is what happens between truth and the fictions we make to withstand it.”
“Uncompromising and deeply affecting, Liar is a brilliantly fragmented, darkly humorous account of a lifelong struggle with addiction and mental illness that stands with Fred Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. Strip-mining his memories for veins of truth, Rob Roberge unearths a fractured, unholy, and undeniable work of brilliance.”
“Wow, what an amazing book. Blunt, brave, sad, funny, and full of heart, Rob Roberge’s jaw-dropping journey through life makes you feel all your feelings, some of which you didn’t even know you had.”
Rob Roberge's Liar is a memoir, not so much about re-living the past, but rather trying to put the past together through a series of flashbacks. Written in nonlinear excerpts and vignettes, Roberge seeks to make sense of a past full of alcohol, drugs, relationships, murders, and music. The nonlinear narrative makes complete sense, as Roberge's life is full of tangled lines, and the only way to make sense of it is to untangle them when and where it's possible. Within this clashing and clanking and untangling and tangling, there is a remarkable beautiful buzz of energy that keeps his story moving along. This buzz of energy is transferred from one word to the next, from one sentence to the next, and from one memory to the next and as a result, we have Roberge's life before us. There is elegance in his chaos.
It's a constant tug-of-war between sobriety and relapses, between love and hate, and between guilt and solace. Told through the second person point of view, there is a triple layering that occurs as Roberge uses "you" to piece together his life. There is a "you" that refers to Rob Roberge writing to himself as he's trying to make sense of his troubled past. There is a "you" which refers to the reader, solely as the reader, solely learning about the author's life through bits and pieces. And then there is a "you" which transforms the reader into Roberge, causing some kind of mirroring effect.
In reference to his first girlfriend who was murdered early in their relationship, Roberge writes:
You try to think about what she looked like, but you really have no memories of this. You remember two long brown pigtails, but you could be getting those from her picture now on an Unsolved Murders in CT website, in her last school picture ever, taken the year she was killed. (2)
Here, we see a deep personal reflection of the author thinking to himself about his girlfriend. He is "talking" to himself, trying to make sense of what has happened. It doesn't feel like he's telling the reader a story, but rather, telling himself, and this allows us to enter Roberge's mind, travelling around in his brain amidst the chaos and confusion.
Later on in his memoir, Roberge writes how he had stolen his wife's painkillers for his own personal use, though his wife needs them for an illness that causes her strong physical pains. The author doesn't tell her that he took them, but ironically, he pretends to help her find her medicine:
And you help her look. And you think of the saying that a junkie will steal your shoes and then help you look for them. You are a cliché. You are worse than a cliché for your wife. You are someone who hurts her. You are letting her feel terrible pain. What kind of person are you? (197)
Here, there is a distance created between the author and the reader. Roberge is making a commentary on the kind of person he is being, and the "you" separates the author from his audience. We are on the outside, trying to figure out the author, perhaps, judging the author as the author is judging himself.
Then, there is the "you" that transforms the reader into Rob Roberge, giving a feeling of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where the reader follows along with Roberge's choices, leading the reader into one dilemma after another in reference to drugs, alcohol, bipolarity, manic episodes and so on. The reader becomes the author, feeling his pain, guilt, and search for hope. Roberge writes, "You snort a line. Very soon, you are calmer and happier than you can ever remember feeling. It's a perfect waking dream…It's like you are living in someone else's body. Someone not at all like you. Someone happy." (176) The author brings the reader in close--we become the text. We snort the line, we are happier, we are in dream, we are not ourselves, we are happy. Here the reader becomes Roberge as he takes drugs. As he acts, we are acting with him, hoping to survive the text, hoping to survive Roberge's life.
Roberge confesses that he is a liar--whether it's to himself, to his friends, to his wife, he lies. He admits that at times, he is unable to separate truth from fiction, and that, ironically, is what makes the memoir so true. True in that his life has been one big blur, full of drugs and liquor and failed relationships and murdered friends. In there, somewhere, there is the truth, or, there are multiple truths. One important truth is the love for his wife, Gayle. This is the essence of his story--how he is still around, though he has thought about killing himself multiple times, because of Gayle. In those moments we see Roberge interact with his wife or write about his wife, we see the author at his humblest. It is in this humility, where the truth lies. It is within the guilt he feels for the pain that Gayle goes through, whether caused by Roberge or not, where the truth exists. He is embarrassed at times, He is remorseful. He is being truthful.
Roberge is seeking for the truth in his own memoir. He's putting bits and pieces together, and it's almost like he's posting a series of Post-it notes against his own brain so that he can remember what has happened in the past to the best of his ability. He reveals a countless amount of dark moments in his life, and it's easy to see why it's difficult for him to remember. You wouldn't want to remember some of these events. You would feel pain trying to seek the past, trying to make sense out of a life that was on the brink of death more than once. You would wonder if it's all worth it.
Liar is a memoir full of puzzle pieces, with some of the pieces missing. It is through these holes, we find beauty in Roberge's writing. The constant inconsistencies in his life make his memoir extraordinary because there is no happy ending or sad ending--there is no ending, in fact, there's just Rob Roberge. His willingness to give himself up, to call himself out, to tell us how he has been struggling with life since he was a child gives us a world where beauty doesn't necessarily mean happiness, but where beauty means the truth. And by facing the truth, you are able to move forward.