National Book Award winner Lily Tuck has lived a life that often informs her stories. She was born in Paris, has lived in Thailand, Uruguay and Peru, and now resides in New York City and Maine, providing plenty of fodder for her characters and their adventures.
That’s perhaps more evident in her latest book, The Double Life of Liliane, than ever before. The semi-autobiographical novel follows the introverted, observant Liliane through some of her most formative years. Following her parents’ divorce, the child lives a life divided between her German-born, movie-maker father, Rudy, who lives in Italy, and her artistic mother, Irene, who has places in Paris and New York.
The Double Life overflows with fraught relationships, with Liliane in many ways pulled between her parents. Irene saw Rudy merely as a means of escape. Rudy, on the other hand, loved Irene and continues to question Liliane about her mother’s welfare long after the divorce.
The novel’s structure is atypical, composed of scenes that provide glimpses into the lives of Liliane, Irene, Rudy and their family rather than a straight narrative. Using photos and documents as well as text, Tuck braids together family history that spans multiple continents and generations. Tales of World Wars, immigration and new marriages are intertwined with smaller moments in a girl’s life, such as schoolwork and friends.
Through its sprawling recollections and period photos and documents from Tuck’s personal collection, she creates an intimate portrait of a life that, much like her own, has spanned continents.