We work to pass on our values to our children: Don’t hurt others, share, be kind, don’t lie. Lying is bad, we tell them, because they are too young to understand that there are exceptions. Better to establish the habit of nondeception, but how much do we examine this blanket policy of truth for adults, for ourselves?

In “Keep It Fake: Lying Your Way to the Truth,” Eric G. Wilson questions the assumptions we all have about liars, honesty and how we make the difficult distinctions that define who we are.

There’s an existential and philosophical thread woven throughout this book, similar to Wilson’s previous book, “Against Happiness.” Both books are concerned with the ways in which we come to understand ourselves as individuals.

As an example, Wilson relates how he was always told that his first word was “ball.” His father’s life revolved around football — so was that a true story? Or was it what his parents wanted the truth to be? An outright lie, or a story that felt so right it became truth?

Wilson comes back to this idea many times — the idea that we live our lives bound by constructed fictions from what we are told about ourselves.

With the “ball” story, Wilson could embrace it as truth or reject it as implausible — but those simple choices, this or that, can be the whole spectrum of how we see ourselves. We find our ways forward hemmed in by the roads laid down before us, or we go about building roads, but in the end, our range of choices can seem predetermined.

Which isn’t to say that we’re powerless, Wilson suggests — more that we can benefit from an increased awareness of true and false being better represented by a pair of dice, rather than the flip of a coin: that is, many combinations, many outcomes.

Wilson’s willingness to plumb his own life for insights — his mental health struggles, his shortcomings as a parent and husband, his hubris — provides ample material to filter through. But he also takes a wide-ranging view that draws on psychology, sociology, social media, painting, music, Bill Murray, the “Radiolab” podcast and more.

He refers at one point to a list of excellent, engaging works that embody what he calls a “perpetually playful multiplicity.” This book is certainly deserving of a spot on that list.

 

Matthew Tiffany is a writer and psychotherapist in Maine.