Boy…if you think your family puts the ‘fun in dysfunctional,’ you haven’t seen anything until you read The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow! This book is the second one I’ve read this year (the first being Tara Westover’s Educated) that has left me speechless about just how broken and toxic families can be! Well-written and brutally honest, I enjoyed The Pale-Faced Lie despite the fact that it is, in many places, as uncomfortable as a book can be!
Crow grows up on an Indian reservation in Arizona and details his life with an emotionally broken mother, a narcissistic, dangerous, unstable father and his 3 siblings. The stories in the book are almost too unbelievable to be real and yet, so incredible that I can’t imagine Crow getting away with writing such things about his family if they weren’t true! The author’s note details the lengths he went to to ensure that his recollections were accurate and, it seems, many of the stories included were actually communicated or corroborated by the broken parents about whom he tells them.
From the very start of this book, the reader is drawn in by Crow’s accounts of his father’s attempts to coerce the 4 children into leaving their home and abandoning their mother without warning. The ongoing battles between mother and father and painful situations that the father puts the children (particularly David) in are hard to read…trigger warnings abound with regard to domestic violence, abuse, language, etc. Yet, the sheer audacity of Crow’s father’s willingness to verbally and physically abuse and gaslight his children is almost too much to look away from. Crow details the various siblings’ responses to this treatment and it’s an incredible study in psychology – each child seems to deal with the family craziness in his/her own unique way.
For his part, Crow is both his parents’ pet and their preferred victim. The multiple decade account of their behavior leaves the reader wondering how David, also beset by a learning disability and hearing loss, survived long enough and developed well enough to ever write a book! Yet, the book itself is clearly written and the story well told. It lags a bit around the time that David goes to high school…the reader has, at that point, heard so many unbelievable tales of abuse and lies that emotional fatigue begins to set in. The story picks up again almost immediately, however, in Part 4, as Crow graduates college and begins to assert himself as an adult in the political world of Capitol Hill.
Personally, I found myself torn between rooting for Crow and cringing at the ways that he participated in his own heartbreaking story. I was hard pressed to remind myself that this child’s home life was so broken that he could not possibly have known another way to live. I struggled with blaming him for some of his behaviors (just as his parents do) and having to pull myself up short to remember that Crow was doing what he could, with what he had, simply to survive.
I wish that more time had been dedicated to Crow as an adult. The end of the book felt a bit as if he had reached his page count and needed to wrap it up. While he becomes both a husband and a father, only a few lines are spent acknowledging those facts. Given his childhood, how he engaged as both a husband and a father would likely have been extremely interesting.
Crow’s story is definitely one worth reading. The simple, raw nature of the story will pull you in and leave you breathless for a family of children who struggled to withstand some of the most pronounced functioning mental illness I have ever read about. While the book is, by its very nature, horrifying, I found myself unable to put it down. When I reached the final page, I found myself both astounded at what Crow had endured and proud of his ultimate ability to push forward in a life that was, at times, apparently filled with little more than pain. If you enjoyed Tara Westover’s Educated, this is most certainly a book for you. A Pale-Faced Lie is Crow’s own story, however, and worth a read from anyone who wants to understand human nature and incredible resilience.
To get your copy of A Pale-Faced Lie (at the time of this writing, it is available for free through Kindle Unlimited), please click the link below: