All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Fake by Stephanie Wood

on July 24, 2019

Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists & phonies
Stephanie Wood
Vintage (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Women the world over are brought up to hope, even expect, to find the man of their dreams, marry and live happily ever after. When Stephanie Wood meets a sweet man who owns a farm and property, she embarks on an exhilarating romance with him. He seems compassionate, truthful and loving. He talks about the future with her. She falls in love. She also becomes increasingly beset by anxiety at the lavish three-act plays he offers her in the form of excuses for frequent cancellations and no-shows. She begins to wonder, who is this man?

When she ends the relationship Stephanie switches back on her journalistic nous and uncovers a story of mind-boggling duplicity and manipulation. She also finds she is not alone; that the world is full of smart, sassy women who have suffered at the hands of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists and phonies, men who are enormously skilled at deception.

In this brilliantly acute and broad-ranging book, Wood, an award-winning writer and journalist, has written a riveting, important account of contemporary love, and the resilience of those who have witnessed its darkest sides.

I’d heard a little bit about this in a couple of facebook book/reading groups that I’m in and it made me really curious. The other day I went into the city for some reason and picked up a copy because it was one of the first books I saw when I walked in the door. The subject really interests me, how people do this – and why.

Stephanie Wood is a journalist who used to work for Fairfax. She met a man on a dating app and although it wasn’t amazing fairytale love at first sight, he was persistent and after a little while, she found herself falling in love. Joe owned a sheep property where he ran dorper sheep and was from an interesting background. For a while all is well…..until it isn’t. Joe frequently cancels plans, vanishes for days, stands her up for important events. He will arrange something and then come up with a terrible reason for why he cannot go through with it. The alarm bells start to ring for Stephanie but she’s determined to believe in him. After all, so much about him seems to add up. But soon they’re a year or more in and she’s not seen his home. She hasn’t met his family, despite repeated arrangements that all mysteriously fall through. Finally she ends it, her anxiety through the roof at his games and tries to unravel just who Joe is and what about him is true.

This is catfishing on another level. Catfishing generally involves just the internet, but often the phone where people create fake profiles and present themselves as someone entirely made up, often for years, stringing people along in relationships with people that don’t exist. Often they vanish as the pressure to meet face to face increases. And there’s a whole show devoted just to deciphering if someone is being catfished. Stephanie’s story differs because she spent all of the time with Joe face to face. They met on a dating app, had a first date and everything went from there. They went away on holidays and for weekends. They went to explore potential properties for Joe to purchase. Stephanie was looking at leaving her whole lifestyle to live with Joe on a property, thinking about the vegetable gardens she would preside over. Ultimately this all came to nothing though, because despite claiming wealth, Joe had almost nothing. He didn’t own a property, he didn’t run dorper sheep and he certainly wasn’t looking at spending millions on a spread in the Southern Highlands. And Stephanie wasn’t the only woman Joe was running this scam on.

This is Stephanie’s story but it’s also about narcissism and fantasy and the impacts that are felt by people who cross the paths of people like Joe. Stephanie is brutally and frankly honest of what the constant push/pull factor did to her mental health. She could never rely on Joe because he would tell her one thing, like that he had definitely booked a flight to go to QLD with her to a wedding and then……just not turn up. He would claim that they will do this or that and then cancel at the last minute because of some disaster or another, often concerning his children which makes it difficult for a woman to question. Because a man should prioritise his children and if they need him….sometimes he cannot be available to go out for dinner or away for the weekend. But there was a pattern to this behaviour, a suspicious amount of disasters and often Joe would just vanish for the night. Stephanie would be waiting for him and he’d simply not show up, not return calls or messages until the next morning or the day after with profuse apologies and stories of how he was the victim in whatever had occurred. Stephanie looks back with the benefit of hindsight in a ‘how on earth did I not see through this earlier’ but she’s also frank about how much she wanted to believe in him. Because she loved him. Because the times when they were together were good. Because she thought that if they just got through this incident, things would be better on the other side. And that once they were living together, everything would settle down and things like this wouldn’t be a concern anymore because she’d be by his side, supporting him during these crises with his ex-wife and incidents with his children. Men like Joe are seemingly quite good at finding supportive and understanding women like Stephanie, who wait around whilst being completely and utterly dicked over. And she’s frank too about how lonely being a woman unpartnered at her age can be and starting again is daunting for pretty much anyone.

This is a brave story and contained within are the stories of other brave women and research into this sort of behaviour as well. It’s a very all round read. It’s Stephanie’s story as it unfolded and how it introduced her to others who had somewhat similar stories as well as put her in touch with people who attempt to understand this sort of thing, so that she might understand it. Stephanie doesn’t get all the answers she seeks – even after discovery, the mystery of Joe is never really deciphered. There are bits and pieces that come out that help to put together several pieces of the puzzle but stuff like income etc was never really gotten to the bottom of. Joe didn’t sit back and allow Stephanie to pay, he quite often footed the bill for dinners and weekends etc which is fine when it seems he’s a wealthy grazier but curious when it appears that he has no actual job. There are a lot of red flags here but Joe seemingly has answers for every one of them and I think that ultimately, humans are a trusting lot. We tend to trust first a lot of the time and wonder why later. When you’re so close to something, often you can’t see it.

Compelling and brilliant…..and all true.


Book #110 of 2019

Fake is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

2 responses to “Review: Fake by Stephanie Wood

  1. Jen says:

    I’m not sure that Wood has given the full picture of why she continued with Joe. The suspicion I have is that early on she realised she had the story of a lifetime and continued with him until her own faked end.

    To add the other men at the end of the book to her story is disjointed and unimaginative, as well as being a sort of padding out for an inability to resolve her complexities and loneliness.

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