‘Fake’ by Stephanie Wood

Non-fiction – paperback; Vintage Australia; 339 pages; 2019.

Love is blind, so they say, and never more so in Stephanie Wood’s case.

A respected journalist who dreamt of finding a special man to spend the rest of her life with, Wood fell victim to a charlatan — a love rat, who took advantage of her compassionate side and told her lie upon lie until she finally woke up to his shenanigans and confronted him about his manipulative behaviour.

Fake — published in Australia last monthis her brutally honest account of their relationship.

A charming man

So there was Joe. What did he look like? Friendly, I think, happy to see me. How did I feel? Curious, nervy, eager to impress. What was the conversation? Fluttery and shallow at the outset, before we started to find common ground — a shared liking for nature, politics, words. He told me that a broadcaster was looking at a script he’d written for a comedy about office cleaners. He said that sometimes he went to the ballet on his own. I told him I liked gardening. He said that, next time, he’d bring me some sheep shit. Something I said gave him an opening to another wacky story: when he was a schoolboy, he let a duck loose in the art gallery where his mother was a volunteer and chaos ensued. And I don’t doubt any of it — why would I? I just laugh and he seems to twinkle before me.

So begins Wood’s first date with the man she met in “the early days of winter 2014”, a man who said he was a former architect turned sheep farmer (hence the mention of sheep poo in the quote above) and property speculator, a man she fell in love with but whom she later realised could never pin down.

Visits to his farm in the Southern Tablelands never quite came off, pre-arranged dates would be cancelled at the very last minute, at times he wouldn’t even show up — and he wouldn’t answer his phone or reply to text messages for days on end. But there was always an excuse, often elaborate but plausible, for which Wood gave him the benefit of the doubt.

But what Wood did not know at the time was that Joe was also involved with another woman and he was stringing her along too. What’s more, his past was somewhat dubious. He hadn’t chosen to swap architecture for farming — he’d been forced out after the firm he ran with his friend went bust thanks to his fraudulent activities.

Riveting exposé of con men

Fake is not just an account of Wood’s unwitting involvement in a sham relationship, it’s a riveting exposé of con men across the world who use their narcissistic powers to take advantage of others for their own end.

She looks at the psychology of such fraudsters and fantasists to try to explain why they behave in such abhorrent ways and speaks to other women who have been similarly fooled, including American journalist Benita Alexander, who fell for celebrated doctor Paolo Macchiarini, who was later exposed as a fake (and which I first read about in 2016 thanks to this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction article in Vanity Fair).

Wood also examines her own heart to work out why she fell so deeply in love with a man who — with the benefit of hindsight — was so clearly not all he was cracked up to be. How could she, as an intelligent woman and a journalist trained to never take things at face value, succumb to his duplicitous ways? Why did she choose to overlook his failings and put up with his bad behaviour? Why did she think she did not deserve any better?

In this brave and honest book, Wood takes a painful episode from her personal life and turns it into something more important: a compelling and well-written study of a behavioural “type” designed to help others recognise when they’re being played. Her advice could, perhaps, be summed up with another cliché to match the one I opened with: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Please note, Fake has not been published outside of Australia, but you can order a copy from Readings.com.au which ships internationally for a flat fee.

This is my 16th book for #AWW2019

11 thoughts on “‘Fake’ by Stephanie Wood

  1. Interesting that she was able to write openly without falling foul of the defamation laws. Wood’s story and stories like it – and there are so many now with online dating – are horror stories, but what do you do? In the end relationships require blind trust. (Or perhaps our forbears were right and arranged marriages make more sense).

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    • Well, you can’t defame someone if it’s true! To be honest, I found it difficult not to judge Wood’s naivety and her acceptance of poor behaviour, almost as if she felt she deserved to be treated like shit. She puts up with a lot of stuff that would have been ringing very loud alarm bells for me, but we’re all different and she does a good job of explaining why she fell for his bullshit. It’s a really brave book for that reason alone.

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  2. I’ve read articles about similar stories, unfortunately the internet gives these types of manipulators wider access than they used to have. Hopefully her story will help others recognise they are being conned sooner & it’s great that she’s sharing it for that reason.

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    • The internet is also a good tool for verifying people’s stories/confirming their lies — Wood uses Google a lot to check on what Joe tells her… it mostly checks out… he’s a master manipulator after all… but there are some dots that don’t join up, which is how she caught him out.

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  3. I thought the same as Bill, our defamation laws are very strict indeed but presumably Penguin have had it passed by their legal department. (It’s true what Kim says, but the onus is on the author to prove that it’s true on the balance of probabilities in a court of law. And we’ve recently just how hard that can be to do!)

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    • His real name is not used. Plus, there’s at least one other woman who can corroborate her story… and she’s a journalist, so Wood has documented everything! There are text messages, emails etc. He’d be a fool to take it to court!

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      • Maybe. But as anyone who has ever gone to court will tell you, it’s very stressful, it’s very expensive even if you win, and things can go wrong e.g. witnesses chicken out, digital files can vanish in a computer glitch. Often you have to settle out of court just to avoid the expense.
        When a distant relation who had no valid claim whatsoever challenged a Will for which I was executor, my solicitor told me at the outset that we would have to pay him ‘go-away money’. The beneficiaries wouldn’t have a bar of it. So two years and $15,0000 later, (our costs) we had to settle at the door of the court to pay his costs ($15,000) because his solicitor wasn’t going anywhere unless his bill was paid. And we had a watertight tape recording of the lady saying loud and clear why she wasn’t leaving him any money…

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        • That’s a horrendous situation, which I think you may have told me about before. Wills do seem to bring the worst out of people. And yes, court cases are horribly stressful. As an editor I had a legal threat against me which dragged on for months and months, but was eventually dropped by the organisation which claimed I’d libelled them because they knew if it actually went to court it would fail. I’m pretty clued up on UK defamation laws as a result. The chap, Joe, in this case would be a numpty to bring charges cos even I can see his case would fall at the first hurdle as you can’t defame someone who doesn’t have a reputation to protect. His past fraudulent business activities put him into that category.

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  4. I suspect lots of us would read of this woman’s story and wonder how could she have been so naive. But some con men are extremely plausible it seems and though she may have had doubts, he;d have found a way to explain everything. How did he get exposed by the way?

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    • Yes, and she writes very honestly about how she really wanted to be married off because she was over 40 and sick of society regarding her as an odd ball because she was single and without children. Her desperation (and I mean that kindly) was such that she always gave Joe the benefit of the doubt and she was willing to do all the hard work in terms of the relationship because it was the opportunity she’d been waiting for for so long: to settle down with someone who loved her.

      As for how she found him out, it wasn’t one big thing but a lot of accumulated things that began to trouble her. She suffered from debilitating anxiety and knew something wasn’t right. It was when she put her journalistic hat on and began asking questions and doing some research that revealed what I think she knew all along…

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