The Fake: Zoe Whittall

Hypochondriac Shelby is frozen in mourning and depression following the sudden death of her wife, Kate. Friends and family don’t seem to understand her inertia, but then she meets the energetic Cammie at her grief therapy group, and there’s something about Cammie’s zest for life that snaps Shelby’s out of her depression.

Gibson, freshly divorced, has moved into a new apartment. Even though he initiated the divorce, it’s hard to break the cord. He’s not sure that he made the right choice, and even asked his ex, to consider rekindling the relationship. She wisely refused. Gibson’s ‘new’ life isn’t going well. He’s so depressed he can’t even muster the energy to unpack. Then one night, out at a bar with friends, he meets bar employee Cammie. She’s charismatic, gorgeous, and soon Gibson is having incredible, eye-popping sex.

Both Gibson and Shelby can’t believe Cammie’s courage in the face of her horrible life history. Yes, Shelby lost her wife, and Gibson is divorced, but those details pale in the light of Cammie’s horrible life history. Cammie has survived being kidnapped as a child, kidney cancer, the suicide of her dad, her death of her sister, the suicide of her best friend, and abusive ex boyfriends. And let’s throw in accusations of theft from her employer. Cammie also attends a grief support group. It’s her “home base.” When it comes to loss, Cammie can trump everyone, and yet she handles it so well. Almost nonchalantly. ..

Set in Toronto, Zoe Whittall’s novel The Fake explores grief, loss, vulnerability, and loyalty. Given the title, I’m not giving anything away when I say that Cammie’s various stories don’t add up. Her ‘bravery’ (and bragging) in the face of multiple tragedies is suspect to Gibson’s friends, but since his sex life is like something out of a porn film, he defends Cammie even when faced with evidence that she is a pathological liar.

Shelby too begins to question Cammie’s past, but then it’s hard to grasp what sort of person would make up a cancer diagnosis. Both Gibson and Shelby have never met anyone quite like Cammie, and soon they wish they hadn’t.

We shouldn’t be mad at ourselves for assuming the best about someone. You know, in all the articles experts say that liars pick people who seem sensitive and empathic because we’re easier to manipulate. I’m not going to be ashamed or being sensitive and caring about people.

The novel has a lot of energy and is a fun read. Gibson and Shelby would not normally cross paths. Gibson is in his business world with male buds and Shelby is a recluse living alone with her dog Coach Taylor Swift. This could have been a very dark novel, but instead the author uses a light touch and some gentle humour while exploring how Cammie fills a need for these two lonely people. Gibson and Shelby find themselves wondering about Cammie’s conscience; they have had no experience with psychopaths, and like many people who are plucked clean in various scams, they don’t want to believe that Cammie is bad news, beyond ‘help’ or that they were gullible. Finally, IMO, I’ve seen this many many times, belonging in a group, a grief group, a bird group, a whatever group, creates a false sense of safety. Somehow people have this impression that membership in that group, no matter how low the bar for entry, anoints fellow members with a badge of safety. As though they’ve been vetted. This makes an easy approach for scammers.

“I think that’s common, with psychopaths. They figure out what you want to hear and they say it.”

Review copy


Filed under Fiction, posts, Whittall Zoe

2 responses to “The Fake: Zoe Whittall

  1. Always enjoy stories of frauds and fakes and love a good psychopath. Seems to be a lot of it about these days.

  2. Fascinating! A face-to-face version of those email scams that get past the spam detector in my email.
    Somebody offered me a grand piano today. I was *almost* tempted to open the email…

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