Brooklyn BookBeat: Retired Businessman, Navy Navigator Published Moving Novel
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A retired sales executive and former U.S. Navy navigator in Vietnam, writer James Whitfield Thomson was not always on the path to becoming an author. But at the age of 68, Thomson has recently published his first novel, “Lies You Wanted to Hear,” and has already received widespread praise for his literary talents. On Tuesday, a crowd of Brooklynites enjoyed a reading by the author, as Thomson appeared in Cobble Hill to celebrate his novel at BookCourt. He spoke alongside Brooklyn author Kimberly McCreight, whose debut novel “Reconstructing Amelia,” published this past spring, will be released in paperback on Dec. 3 (stay tuned for an upcoming BookBeat column that details McCreight’s book and the Dec. 3 Brooklyn launch party).
Though he didn’t begin writing until his mid-40s, Thomson has published several short stories, one of which won a national prize. Still, he never had much luck with his novel manuscripts. In fact, he says he’s probably been rejected about 250 times for three novels, a memoir and a book of short stories – all submitted through prestigious agents.
But his perseverance has paid off; “Lies You Wanted to Hear” is a stunning debut that deftly considers how seemingly good people can talk themselves into making terrible choices. “Lies You Wanted to Hear” follows the story of Lucy, who is still immersed in grief seven years after her two young children vanished with her ex-husband. Alone in an empty house, she tries to imagine their lives, forever tortured by her role in their tragic disappearance. While she used to be an edgy, sexy woman whom men found irresistible, she has been unable to retain her confidence and appeal.
Readers soon become acquainted with Lucy in the late ’70s, when she met Matt, who became her husband and the father of her children. Matt’s narrative is interspersed with Lucy’s, and the juxtaposition of their two diverse perspectives adds a layer of depth to the story. When the two meet, Matt falls fast, while Lucy is more hesitant. She recognizes that Matt is a smarter choice than Griffin, the man with whom she’s had an intense yet unreliable relationship. Though she may not be honest with herself, Lucy wants things to work with Matt, and she marries him. But after the couple has two children, Lucy falls into a depression and their marriage begins to wither. One day, after they’ve divorced, Matt and the children vanish.
Lucy, amidst her heartbreak, attempts to make sense of the events that transpired. She contemplates her role in the divorce, wondering whether she could have been better or loved him more. She even wonders whether Matt was justified in taking the children away and starting over. While both characters have faults and do terrible things to each other, Thomson poignantly depicts their humanity and readers cannot help but feel empathetic.
James Whitfield Thomson is a former sales executive and U.S. Navy navigator in Vietnam. Along with Elizabeth Berg, George Packer, Christopher Tilghman and Dennis Lehane, he was an early member of the late Andre Dubus's writers' workshop. He lives in Natick, Massachusetts. This is his first novel.