Study Guide

What I Saw and How I Lied Setting

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Palm Beach

What I Saw and How I Lied takes place in seemingly idyllic Palm Beach. Joe decides to take his family there on an impromptu vacation, and at first, they're taken in by the glamour and the ritzy quality of the place—it's practically a playground for rich, fancy people. But soon the cracks of their gilded adventure begin to show:

The desk clerk told us about things to do—tennis lessons, boats we could rent—but we never got to them. We started to notice the worn upholstery on the sofas and the stains on the carpet. The hotel had been closed during the war, and nobody had bothered to fix it up. (5.49)

In a way, the setting of Palm Beach mirrors the way that Evie sees her parents. At first, she's completely enamored with them and wants to be just like them when she is an adult—she sees her mother as the kind of woman she wants to emulate, and she acts the same way about Palm Beach. She even decides that she wants to live there someday:

People like to start fresh, Mom had told Peter. Everybody wants that sometime. Even when you're my age. Maybe especially if you're my age.

Peter's father had business interests in Miami, he'd said. And he seemed at loose ends. What if Peter moved here, too? (13.40-41)

But eventually, Palm Beach turns on Evie—just like her parents do. A hurricane blows in and destroys the town and (maybe) kills Peter, her first love. It's lost its allure, and in the end, she just wants to leave it all behind.

A Snapshot of the Past

Besides its physical setting, What I Saw and How I Lied also takes place in a very specific temporal (time-based) setting. The story happens right after WWII, and everyone is still reeling from the effects of the war. Evie describes what it was like during the war, and how things are different now:

It was 1947, and the war was over. Now there was music on every radio, and everybody wanted a new car. Nobody had a new car during the war—they weren't making them—and nobody took pictures, because there wasn't any film. One thing about a war? You never have new.

But now our fathers and brothers and cousins were home, and our Victory Gardens had been turned back into lawns, because now we could buy not only what we needed but also what we wanted, vegetables and coffee and creamy butter. Cameras and cars, and brand-new washing machines, even. (2.3-4)

Obviously, things have gotten better. People aren't dad-less and brother-less anymore (for the most part), and the economy seems to be picking back up. On top of that, people just seem to have less to worry about; they're trying to shake off the dark past of the war and enjoy their lives—kick up their feet, go swimming in a pool, and have a cocktail (or three). They want to get a little drunk, put on nice clothes, and boogey down. That's what Evie and her parents are doing, anyway, when they show up in Palm Beach.

Things take a dark turn in Palm Beach because of something Joe did during the war, though, and when this happens, we are reminded that just because the war is technically over, doesn't mean its influence doesn't seep forward.

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