Self-Discovery and Survival in Beautiful Lies

(June 3, 2008) Ridley Jones and the supporting characters in Lisa Ungers’s Beautiful Lies experience a journey of self discovery that raises sociological and psychological questions. Mainly however, they support the idea that it is not the strongest among us who survive. Nor is it the most intelligent. It is those among us who are the most adaptable to change.

Ridley Jones, the heroine of Beautiful Lies, not only discovers the literal truth about her identity; she also learns about her mindset and thought process, as well as that of those around her. Throughout this journey, Ridley Jones raises many ideas about human emotions and thinking, as do many supporting characters who act as foils in the novel. Ridley is one character who adapts to change, and survives.

Ridley Jones is the daughter of a well-known pediatrician in the tri-state area and she has let her parents and loved ones control her decisions her entire life. Her life is turned upside down by letters suggesting her parents are not her biological parents and death threats intended to protect the truth.
Clearly, Ridley has many dramatic and traumatic experiences that she shares with the reader. As a result, Ridley not only is revealed the harsh truth, but she recognizes emotions and feelings about her world that she has never recognized before. Unger pays particular detail to emotions in her writing; both in her descriptions of them and in writing so that the reader feels them with the characters. It starts from the opening pages of the novel; Ridley states,
“It takes only a moment to bring myself back into my childhood completely. I can close my eyes and be overcome with the sense memories of my youth. The aromas from my mother’s kitchen, the scent of Old Spice and rainwater on my father when he returned from work in the evenings, … I can hear my parents laughing or singing, sometimes arguing, and later outright yelling when things really started going wrong with my brother Ace,” (Unger 33).
The reader can see that Ridley has a comfort in her childhood, but she gives hints that it was not always glorious. Ridley reverts back to her childhood comforts throughout the novel because they are familiar, and for the most part, pleasant, unlike current events in her life. Ridley finds comfort primarily in her father. She turns to him anytime something goes wrong, and speaks to him almost daily. There would appear to be no issue with this; after all, parents are supposed to be there to guide their children and comfort them, but what Ridley realizes is that in turning to her parents at every moment, she allows them to make her decisions for her. Ridley follows their advice not because it is helpful, but because she falls back into her early childhood when her parents new her better than she knows herself, and because she does not want to cause her parents pain like her brother Ace has. Ridley has let her parents control her life; even her adult life, and has difficulty keeping from falling back into old nets of safety that do not fit her. She no longer fits into this life because she finds that her entire life has been a lie, but Ridley makes it through this rough period to better times.

Another person that affects Ridley’s life in a controlling way is her ex -fiancé Zach; for example, Zach tells Ridley, ‘“When are you going to wise up? Zachary had wanted to know. ‘He uses you. He doesn’t love you. People like that don’t even know what love is,”’ (50.) This quote references Ace, who does allow Ridley to give him money on occasion, but has loved her ever since childhood. Ironically, Zach is the user who does not know how to love considering that he was willing to kill Ridley when she knew the truth about Project Rescue. Ridley’s relationship with Zach was somewhat forced. It felt right at first because Ridley consciously made herself love Zach; it was not an involuntary action. With Jake, Ridley entrusts her secret, which affects her entire identity, to a stranger. She knows barely anything about Jake, but entrusts her life with him. This is a turning point for Ridley because she is breaking away from the outlined life established for her by her family and trusting her emotions, thus trusting herself.

Ridley presents her feelings about Jake, that make their relationship better than her and Zach’s when she asks aloud, “You know the feeling you get when you step into someone’s aura and you feel as though you’ve known that person all your life, as if their energy is as familiar to you as the sound your refrigerator makes?” (55). Ridley depicts the fact that she feels extremely comfortable with Jake despite not knowing him, while she did know Zach her entire life, yet their relationship was forced. She also likens the emotion, which is difficult to describe, to something known like the refrigerator as to make the emotion understandable by many; including herself because she feels the emotion, but can not describe it to anyone clearly. Ridley’s relationship with Jake becomes stronger with every hurdle they face because Ridley trusts herself more instead of trying to make her relationships fit into a specific mold. She can do this because she has learned more about herself and realized tendencies of her past. Ridley removes herself from situations that are the most negative in search of better times, which do come in the end of the novel as Ridley moves on. Ridley is definitely distraught over the developments in her life, but she looks for answers, which is constructive. It may not be the most intelligent move to go in search of a man who claims to be your father, but you have never met, however the concept of finding out the truth instead of being bothered by the problems that have arisen is constructive and adaptive.

Uncle Max, on the other hand, becomes trapped in his problems and sees no way out. Max lets his problems cause him pain. He has trouble connecting with and loving people because of the child abuse he was a victim of. In despite of this, Max was a very successful man in the eyes of many. He was wealthy, powerful, well-known, important, and he had sway over people that allowed him to pass the Safe Haven Law in New York State. Behind the scenes of all of this however, Max had many psychological issues that affected him greatly. Max was responsible for allowing children to be abducted and sold to wealthy families that could not have their own children. This involved abuse, murder, and completely changed the courses of life for thousands of children! Clearly, this is unethical and illegal, but Max honestly thought he was saving children from the terrorized life he had survived. The people involved in this were the ones who did not necessarily have the best of intentions, and it ate Max alive. As Max describes to Ridley under the influence of alcohol one night, he confesses, ‘“It’s all coming back on me, Ridley’ … ‘All the good I tried to do. I fd it up. Man, I fd it up so bad,”’ (224). This man is clearly disturbed and no longer in control of his life. As mob lawyer Alexander Harriman describes, ‘“At this point, he wanted to close down the operation, but by then it was bigger than him. The people involved were making a lot of money and no one was eager to give that up,”’ (315-316). This knowledge in addition to the abuse, and knowledge that one of the abducted children was actually Max’s biological child, Ridley, was too much for Max to take. He was no longer in control of his life, if he ever was, because he was affected by the decisions of others and unable to adapt. Undoubtedly we all will be affected by someone else’s choices, good or bad, that is life, but those that control how they react still hold their cards and are part of the game.


In the case of another supporting character Jake, he over comes his demons somewhat to find a certain level of peace in his life. Like Ridley, Jake is a Project Rescue baby. He has endured physical and emotional abuse, and is greatly affected socially by his lack of communication skills and trust. Jake becomes a private investigator with the hopes of finding his family. He also uses metal art to release anger, while some may take their anger out on other people. Jake carries the pain of his past, but he does not let it stop him from living his life. He is actually a very caring, constructive person when no one would fault him if he had extreme anger issues because he, of all people would have the right to. As Ridley describes Jake’s reaction to her story about the letters, the reader can see that Jake is not consumed by his anger and pain. Jakes says as Ridley finishes the story, ‘“Wow’ Ridley responds, ‘I bet you’re sorry you asked,’ Jake responds, ‘No. I’m not,’ Ridley than describes, ‘he touched my hair lightly, pushing it away from my eyes. It was a gentle gesture, intimate,”’ (56). Jake is very comforting in this scene, and he will continue to help Ridley through her problems, as he works through his own related issues.


Jake did not have nearly as nice a childhood as Ridley, he had foster homes and gun shot wounds, while Ridley lived a comfortable life in the suburbs; yet Jake is able to adapt and overcome his issues. Max had every luxury imaginable, but was unable to overcome his emotions. Ridley did live comfortably, in a loving home, and did overcome the unpleasant truth about her identity. The situation that a person goes through does not have to be the deciding factor in how someone’s life turns out. We are all in control of how we handle the situations that arise, and there is always a choice. Max should have realized this; as he did overcome adversity to make himself as successful as he was before Project Rescue. As Beautiful Lies depicts, “It is not the strongest among us who survive. Nor is it the most intelligent. It is those among us who are the most adaptable to change,” (277).


(K.P 2008)



The Effects of the Recurring Ideas of Others on Subconscious Actions

(June 13, 2008) This Criticism explores how the ideas of supporting characters, as well as symbols, remain in the subconscious memory of Ridley Jones, and how these thoughts affect her action in Sliver of Truth. (K.P. 2008).

Sliver of Truth is the sequel to Beautiful Lies, and it continues to follow the journey of Ridley Jones as she untangles the web of lies that her life has been. Even more prevalent in the second novel than the first are phrases or bits of advice that remain in Ridley’s mind and affect her actions; whether she is conscious of it or not.

In an interview with a famous person, Elena, who has discovered her own life has been marred by several lies, Ridley is told a realization that applies to her past, present, and future. Elena states to Ridley, “And when we sense something truly dark, something monstrous, we can pull a veil over our eyes… because to acknowledge it is to take responsibility. Once you know, you have to do something about it. And that can be the most frightening thing of all,” (Unger 42). From the start of the drama in Ridley’s life, which is seen in Beautiful Lies, to Sliver of Truth, Ridley initially tries to separate herself from the complicated truth about her life, but when her curiosity gets the better of her, she continuously searches for answers that she does not necessarily want to hear. Ridley often expresses the emotion of this idea when overwhelmed by subconsciously removing herself from the situation by passing out. For example, when Ridley finds out that Max Smiley is still living and that he has been part of a people trafficking scandal, she starts to faint. Jake says, ‘“Ridley,’ said Jake, who , in spite of everything, knew me quite well, ‘don’t pass out,”’ (286). Ridley expresses the idea presented by Elena in her physical actions, as well as in words. Ridley states, “Dylan was right. Part of me would go back and change it all if I could,” (276). Dylan, an investigator trying to stop Ridley from placing herself into more dangerous situations, expresses to her that she would want to go back in time if she could, assuming she would continue to search for information about her father. Ridley discovers, out of fear, regret, and disgust, that Dylan is right about her emotions. Part of Ridley would never want to know the truth about Max Smiley because she could continue to live her life without feeling guilt and disgust about being related to such a horrible man.

The emotions that Ridley feels may be natural emotions that would be shared by anyone in stressful situation, but they are presented in a way that they foreshadow what is to come. The way that Ridley recalls that she was told about these ideas by other people shows that she is influenced by their words, but she needs to discover information for herself, like most people.

Another idea that is planted in Ridley’s mind and foreshadows her future emotions is presented by FBI investigator Dylan Grace. Grace tells Ridley, ‘“You and Jake are looking for justice, maybe even revenge, though neither of you wants to admit it,”’ (254). Grace is referring to Ridley and Jake’s obsession with finding out information about the unseen side of Max Smiley. They conduct investigation about him and will not “let the dead lie”. Ridley’s life is unpredictable, stressful, confusing, and dangerous because of Max Smiley and his actions. Ridley tries often to convince herself that she is looking for information about Max to try and understand him and prove that some of the evil things he is accused of are not true. However, in her heart, Ridley knows that Max was not a good man, and she wants answers to redeem the destruction that has stricken her life. Upon seeing Max Smiley, Ridley realizes that he is who people say he is. Ridley recounts, “I gaze upon his face. And he’s someone I don’t recognize at all. I draw in a gasp as a wide, cruel smile spreads across his face. And then I get it. He is the man they say he is,” (332). This emotion not only depicts Ridley’s obsession; she risks her life to see a man that has abandoned her and is responsible for the deaths of dozens, but it also depicts Elena’s opinion that once something is brought to light, something has to be done about it. Ridley, in fact, wanted to kill Max Smiley to get revenge. She expresses to herself, “Besides, killing him wouldn’t have made him any less my father; it wouldn’t have killed the pieces of him that live inside me. What I needed was an exorcism,” (336). In this thought, Ridley expresses her anger at the damage Max has caused her and numerous others, but at the same time, Max is her father and she has an unexplainable love for him that she can not expel. Max is always with Ridley, haunting her, because she can not change what has happened or how she feels. The actions of Max and his lies will remain in the back of Ridley’s mind and subconsciously affect her decisions, like the words of other characters portray her later actions.

The major quote that Ridley followed throughout Sliver of Truth came to her via an incriminating text message reading, “Ridley; go home,” (343). The words of this message constantly come to Ridley’s mind throughout the novel. At first, the statement triggered fear and caused Ridley to want to hide from the truth, but as usual, curiosity gets the better of Ridley. Ridley follows the statement to every place that she could possibly consider home: the United States, her apartment, her parents’ house, Max’s apartment, and her childhood fort. By following this command, Ridley finally ends up at the fort where she finds a note from Max explaining what he could about his life, as well as that any kindness he had expressed towards her was genuine. This statement, although incriminating at first, led Ridley to do what she had needed to do for over a year, since her life was turned upside down by a manila envelope, and that was to go home and revisit the genuine goodness she had experienced. Ridley needed to remember that there was genuineness to her life, despite the fact that it was full of lies. Ridley knew this the entire time because she had on occasion tried to go home and reconcile with her parents, but she was not able to overcome the deceit until the right part of her conscious had been triggered and she realized that home was truly home despite everything.

A multitude of statements and advice are made to Ridley that plays a role in her actions. These words trigger Ridley’s own thoughts and contribute to her resulting actions.

(K.P. 2008)