White Lies is Doris Johnson's fourth novel. It's a quirky novel of a love that
develops amidst family tragedies.
Earlier this year, I read Doris Johnson's "Father at Heart," a very strong short story in
Arabesque's first Father's Day anthology, Man of the House. I also enjoyed Ballantine/One World's reissue of Love Unveiled, her first novel (written under
her pen name, Gloria Greene). Both were reviewed by TRR.
White Lies prologue begins in July of 1972. Beatrice Vaughn is awakened at
3 a.m. by the sound of a whistling tea kettle. She goes to investigate and finds her husband
in the midst of a sexual encounter on the kitchen table – with her youngest sister, Vera.
Beatrice has finally had enough. For years, Michael, her successful cartoonist husband,
belittled her artistic talent. He physically and emotionally abused her. Michael had several
affairs. Friends, neighbors, relatives were all fair game.
Following his latest betrayal, they argued violently. Beatrice called her oldest sister, Dorcas
to come to care for the couple's four-year-old daughter, Willow. Beatrice shot and killed
Michael and then turned the gun on herself.
White Lies begins 26 years after the Vaughn murder-suicide. Willow, who was
raised by Dorcas and her husband in Canada, is a successful botanical artist. She lives with
her now-widowed aunt in the family home in upstate New York. For part of the year, the
Vaughn home doubles as an artists' colony. Willow works in her studio on the grounds.
Willow has begun to notice Jake Rivers, a landscape architect whose family has cared for
the Vaughn estate for two generations. Jake has his own landscaping business but is
working at Willow's to help his ailing father and trifling brother maintain their accounts.
Doris Johnson has crafted another interesting story about family relationships.
She's done an excellent job of developing the relationship between Jake and Willow, two
relatively private people. You can sense the social apprehension and sexual tension as their
feelings for each other increase. Their relationship is – for the most part – believable. There
were several (albeit minor) inconsistencies in Willow's character I couldn't quite reconcile.
Her reactions often seemed extreme, but hers was a unique situation.
Jake and Willow's relationship does not exist in a vacuum. Decades of family resentments,
lies and secrets begin to work against the young lovers and try to unravel their budding
While some of the plot is predictable since the reader has information the main characters
don't, the author has included a few surprises and twists. The inconsistencies I mentioned
earlier begin in the last quarter of the book. If TRR allowed fractions as part of the
rating system, this novel would rate 3 1/2 hearts. Since it doesn't, White Lies is
a very strong three-heart read.