Through His Eyes and Lies is not an ex-Mormon novel or an anti-Mormon novel. It’s kind of a Mormon-adjacent novel. Though the majority of the book’s events take place in Provo, Utah and religion does play a role in the story that unfolds, Mormonism itself is more the setting than the central focus. The church is Middle-Earth, not the One Ring. For anyone hoping for a juicy attack on LDS values in a millennial coming-of-age format, you’re going to be disappointed. Otherwise, there’s plenty of meat on the bone here.
Though author C. L. Jackson does take a few subtle and less-than-subtle swipes at Mormon foibles here and there, the story itself is a character study of a pathological liar (who is also a borderline alcoholic) as he searches for love and a sense of purpose between Maryland and Utah. He bounces from one short-lived romance to the next and staggers from one liquor bottle to the next, never really having a good handle on what he wants or who he is—which should make this a painfully relatable struggle for many.
The narrator is well-drawn, managing to maintain a delicate balance between being sympathetic and being despicable. He’s flawed, and there were plenty of times he needed a good solid punch in the nose, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clearer that he’s a good-hearted person whose best qualities have been obscured by the loss of his identity. When he starts to find out who he is and who he wants to be, the urge to punch dissipates quickly.
My only real complaint about Through His Eyes and Lies is the abundance of sexual encounters. While each has significance to the progression of the story and the development of the characters, it’s astonishing how easily the narrator is able to entice women into what are often one-night stands. Perhaps I merely don’t possess his womanizing attitude (or his devastating good looks), but it begins to feel very unrealistic as he cuts through the inhibitions and the brainwashing with relative ease in order to sleep with a staggering number of women in, of all places, Provo.
The sex is still an essential part of the narrator’s experiences and growth, however. His character arc is agonizingly drawn out at some points, but this quality is the book’s most realistic representation of human nature—change takes time, and we tend learn at a speed that, to outside observers, is much too slow. If anything, this makes his progress in the end all the more rewarding and all the more satisfying.
Jackson also layers the text with a pervasive if understated sense of humor. All of the film references, for example (especially in the chapter titles), are a fun little treat to keep you perked up even when the hero is at his lowest points. And though the book appeals to a wider readership, those with experience in Mormonism should be able to deeply connect with the narrator’s quest for a new identity and a life of authenticity.