Glennis Harmon's life is wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place: her unforgiving, tough-love-minus-the-love husband, Geoffrey, and their drug-abusing, lying-through-his-teeth son, Jacob. When the conflict between the two men drives a wedge between her and her husband, Glennis opts to provide a safe place where her son can get the love and support she believes he needs. In doing so, she places her marriage on the line and threatens to do more harm than good to Jacob.
It doesn't help that Sarah, the Harmons' college-age daughter, has planted herself firmly in her father's camp, providing little comfort to Glennis and none to Jacob, who at 19 has traded in school for a string of dead-end jobs and a group of deadbeat friends whose main goal in life is to partake of the narcotic du jour. It also doesn't help that Geoff Harmon serves in a high-profile position as city attorney, or that the Harmons are well-known in the community as a model church-going family.
Hesitant to expose her family for what it has become, Glennis keeps the worst of her pain inside, hiding it even from her friend Sherri. But the situation with Jacob escalates --- or degenerates --- to the breaking point for her. She shares the truth about Jacob's addiction with Sherri, who proves instrumental in helping Glennis navigate her way through the mess her family is in --- a mess that includes the secret life Geoff has been living for six months or more.
Embedded in the title CRYSTAL LIES are at least three symbols integral to the plot: the false promises of crystal meth, Jacob's current drug of choice; the transparency of the many lies Jacob tells his mother and himself; and a Waterford crystal vase that represents the Harmons' shattered marriage. Carlson's treatment of those themes and others sets her apart from many of her peers; with each of her recent books, she further reinforces her fearlessness in handling difficult issues in a realistic and often gritty way not generally seen in Christian fiction.
The spiritual element is very much a part of the story, and it is blessedly well integrated into the dialogue and story line. Carlson provides spiritual content without ever preaching or inserting sermonettes into her characters' conversations. And unlike the typical, fictional Christian family, the Harmons sound like a real family: Jacob quit youth group in middle school; Glennis gets mad at God, sneaks a cigarette outside church (just once, but still…), and realizes that the Christian life is not all her church tried to make her believe it would be; various family members use words like "suck" and "freaking" and no one freaks out; and a remorseful Geoff makes a decision about their future that is utterly unpredictable.
Every aspect of this story rings true. Anyone who has been involved to any extent with an addict will recognize the all-too-familiar behaviors, which Carlson so capably describes: "It seemed to happen every time Jacob had gotten involved in drugs. It was as if he suddenly became the expert at throwing confusion everywhere. He could put up a smoke screen and get people on the defensive before they even know what had hit them." Sound familiar? If so, you'll appreciate Carlson's insights into a world you already know; if not, you'll get an education in the way that world works.
CRYSTAL LIES is clearly one of the best works of Christian fiction to release so far this year, in any genre. It's the kind of book you can actually share with your non-Christian friends without cringing --- and the kind you can read with the same result.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011