Rumpus Exclusive: An Excerpt from Rob Roberge’s Liar

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Indie darling and novelist Rob Roberge’s new memoir Liar is an intense, darkly funny book of addiction and mental illness, relapse, recovery, and the nature of memory. Liar is Roberge’s desperate attempt to document his life when faced with the prospect of forgetting it after years of hard living and too frequent concussions suffered during substance-induced blackouts. In an effort to preserve his identity (for what is identity if not memories?), Roberge records 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 singing and playing guitar with his band the Urinals as an opening act 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 are the stories that lie at the heart of who we think we are.

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WINTER 1979: You are the only white kid, drinking with your best friends from the winter basketball league, Mal­colm and Terry and a few other kids you don’t know that well.

Malcolm always brings red wine. You once ask him if he could get you some beer and he laughs at you. “Tom Pitty-Patty, beer is a very fucking white thing to drink. White people drink beer and then sit around the next day talking about how much beer they drank.” He has nicknamed you “Tom Pitty-Patty” because out of uniform, you mostly wear your Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers T‑shirt from the Damn the Tor­pedoes tour.

You are passing the bottle and you and Terry are sharing a Swisher Sweet and snow is falling in soft heavy flakes that look as big as packing peanuts.

Someone complains that he’ll have to shovel that fuck­ing snow in the morning. One of the guys says that Super John Williamson won’t have to shovel his snow.

Super John Williamson is a hero of all of yours. He plays for the New Jersey Nets. He’s from the poorest, worst part of New Haven and it’s a famous story in local basketball circles that as a kid, Super John Williamson had to shovel snow just to help his family get enough money to eat.

He was truly poor and you feel guilty, sitting around with guys like Malcolm and Terry, who are also poor, while you live two towns over and you’re fine. Your parents are solidly middle class and you are white and even at thirteen you know you have an enormous and unfair advantage.

Super John Williamson shoveled snow from the time he was seven years old and he knew what it felt like to go to bed hungry and he dreamed about getting the fuck out of shitty New Haven and he did because he was one of the greatest basketball players anyone had ever seen.

Super John Williamson vowed that when he made it, he would buy his mother a house and he would build himself a mansion and he would never shovel snow again.

And now, everybody around knows that Super John Williamson signed a huge contract with the Nets and has a mansion in New Haven that has heating coils installed under the driveway, so that when it snows, he flicks a switch and the snow fucking melts and he’s done interviews about how he flicks that switch and he watches his snow melt and he remembers every shovel full of snow he ever had to lift.

LIAR COVERSuper John Williamson has even, you’re pretty sure, had his name legally changed from his given name to his nick­name. He was just John Williamson, but now he’s Super John Williamson and everyone has to call him that.

He is the essence of cool to all of you. He is a sign of where basketball can take you.

Every single one of you on these steps thinks he is going to be a pro basketball player. You and six million other kids are convinced they’ll be one of the three hundred NBA players.

You’re all getting a little buzzed from the wine and someone says you should go watch the snow melt at Super John Williamson’s house.

Seven of you pile into Malcolm’s brother’s car. None of you are old enough to drive. Malcolm is the oldest, at fif­teen, but he shouldn’t be driving—maybe more than any of you. He’s been arrested at least twice for stealing andjoyriding in stranger’s cars. With these priors, he could be arrested and locked up for driving his brother’s car. If you or Terry were driving, or any of the other guys, you’d be arrested, but it probably wouldn’t mean you’d be locked up. But you can’t drive and even if you could, you’d never take the risk. You are the smallest person in the car, so you sit on the center console between the two front seats, fac­ing backward with your ass aching the whole way.

The snow starts sticking to the road on Route 95 and it’s slick by the time you get to the house. You park across the street. The seven of you spill out of the car. The snow is falling more quickly now and you stand across the street, and you all watch in awe as the streets and sidewalks grow thick and white with snow and Super John Williamson’s driveway sits, black and wet and warm.

You think you see someone look out at you from inside the house, but you can’t be sure if this is memory or inven­tion.

In three years, Malcolm will be dead—thrown off the roof of a six-story building in Bridgeport. Terry will be in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic from a gunshot to the neck. You are the only one who ever leaves his hometown. Even Super John Williamson will owe so much in back taxes to the IRS, he will one day lose the glorious house you are staring at in the falling snow.

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Reprinted from LIAR: A MEMOIR © 2016 by Rob Roberge. To be published by the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on February 9.


Rob Roberge is the author of four books of fiction, most recently The Cost of Living. His memoir, Liar, will be published by Crown in February, 2016. He can be found online at robroberge.com. More from this author →