The Practice of Deceit
by Elizabeth Benedict
Published by Mariner Books
288 pages, 2006
Whatever Lola Wants
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
Manhattan psychotherapist Eric Lavender should know better. He's about to be duped by his soon-to-be wife, a wealthy divorce lawyer with babe at breast.
This is his first marriage. Although Lavender is a ladies man par excellence, specializing in the younger variety -- the ones he doesn't have to engage with other than physically -- in all his 47 years, he has never considered marriage before. Colleen O'Brien Golden, however, is smart, sexy, stylish and sensuous. She'll do what it takes to get what she wants. She also discovers him in a weak moment; his father has just died, with many issues unresolved between them. When the grieving son breaks down in front of her on an elevator, he soon finds himself comforted. He, and we, can easily believe that here is a nurturing woman. For a while it seems this is a relationship with promise.
Then, although in her early forties, "Lola" is soon pregnant, thus forcing Lavender to make some serious decisions. Does he want to be a middle-aged daddy? Does he want to move his successful practice to the quiet suburb where Colleen practices? To move into her home and accept the office she has so artfully decorated for him?
Predictably, they marry and although Eric's love for his difficult wife is stretched somewhat, there is no question at all about his surprising delight in his children, both his own unplanned arrival and his stepdaughter. He steps into the shoes of dad without a qualm, and loves it. Golden has him just where she wants him. Now if only he hadn't discovered her fertility pills and come to realize that the "accident" was very carefully planned. If only thorny issues of deceit and trust weren't raising their heads. Lavender begins to realize how little he knows of his mysterious and manipulative significant other. He wonders why he has never met her family and why she has so few friends. According to her, she was married to a professor who left her for one of his students when he found out she was pregnant with her first daughter. She says this unwilling father has never even seen his child. Lavender seeks out and meets this man, along with one of her business associates. Surprises follow.
A professional conflict of interest heats up the relationship further, and once she realizes she may not get her way this time, the lawyer-spouse turns into every man's worst nightmare.
In spite of his earlier predilection for young females, Lavender is portrayed as a nice guy who wants to do the right thing. He envies and admires his older sister who is a pediatric cardiac surgeon, saving young lives. He genuinely wants to help people. He doesn't deserve what's about to happen to him.
The novel is as stylish a read as the wife, just as sophisticated and well turned out, hardly surprising for a successful writer of North American bestsellers (Almost, Slow Dancing). Ira Levin, author of The Stepford Wives and Rosemary's Baby, enthuses on the book cover: "A terrific nonstop read."
Much of the rest of the comments on and in the covers, though, do the book more harm than good. Such descriptions as "a psychological thriller," and "a lot of wicked fun" merely set the reader up for what she/he is not going to get. It is not fun, wicked or otherwise, and it is not remotely a thriller. Just when you think it might be, and you await the first turn in the plot, you are given the denouement. The story is logical and plausible with few plot twists. Misleading press can be more harmful to a novel than bad publicity, setting up expectations that can't be fulfilled and sometimes therefore leading to disappointment. Read the book without those expectations and there will be no letdowns. A quote recommending the novel as "a suspenseful and provocative look at the intricacies and dangers of intimacy with the wrong person" is accurate. In addition to an interesting plot and an unusual antagonist, The Practice of Deceit contains the many pithy and insightful reflections you would expect from a sensitive psychotherapist. | July 2006
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.