The Fake

A Novel

About the Book

A scammer as alluring as she is elusive irrevocably upends the lives of two strangers in this gripping novel from the acclaimed author of The Best Kind of People.

“The genius of Zoe Whittall’s writing is her clear-eyed understanding of human nature, which she lays on the page in beautiful, startling, frank detail. I inhaled The Fake as fast as I could—and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.”—Marissa Stapley, New York Times bestselling author of Lucky


After the death of her wife, Shelby is suffering from prolonged grief. She’s increasingly isolated, irritated by her family’s stoicism and her friends’ reliance on the toxic positivity of self-help culture. Then, in a grief support group, she meets Cammie, who gives her permission to express her most hopeless, hideous feelings. Cammie is charismatic and unlike anyone Shelby has ever met. She’s also recovering from cancer and going through several other calamities. Shelby puts all her energy into helping Cammie thrive—until her intuition tells her that something isn’t right.

Gibson is fresh from divorce, almost forty, and deeply depressed. Then he falls in love with Cammie. Not only is he having the best sex of his life with a woman so attractive he’s stunned she even glanced his way, but he feels truly known for the first time in his life. But Gibson’s friends are wary of Cammie, and eventually he, too, has to admit that all the drama in Cammie’s life can feel a bit over the top.

When Gibson and Shelby meet, they realize Cammie’s stories don’t always add up. In fact, they’re far from the truth. But what kind of a person would lie about having cancer? And what does it say about Shelby and Gibson that they fell for it? From the author of The Best Kind of People and The Spectacular comes a sharp, emotional novel about lies, liars, and the people who love them.
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Praise for The Fake

“Zoe Whittall’s gripping new novel, The Fake, upends the expected scammer narrative. Instead of cozying up to the fake herself, we’re caught alongside the two vulnerable people who cling to her as a quick fix for psychic pain. We know this woman who weaponizes false victimhood to get what she wants will only hurt them more, but the story’s irresistible momentum defies us to look away.”—Laura Sims, author of Looker

The Fake is as witty and sharp as it is humane. I fell in love with these characters, and with the fabulist, fabulous heart that animates Whittall’s writing.”—Jen Silverman, author of We Play Ourselves

“Zoe Whittall has created her most extraordinary, complicated, and lovable characters yet. A beautiful, charismatic liar appears in the lives of vulnerable and grieving people, and her elaborate tales of woe weave everyone into her spell, with tragic results. My perspective on lies and liars has forever changed after reading this book.”—Heather O’Neill, author of When We Lost Our Heads

“A compelling, hypnotic tale about grief, lies, and truth that forces us to examine what it means to trust, to deceive, to take advantage, and to be vulnerable. Whittall’s latest is a terrifyingly honest look at the lies we tell each other and ourselves that moves at a breakneck pace until its heartbreaking yet inevitable conclusion. I simply couldn’t put this book down.”—Alicia Elliott, author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

“I devoured this wild ride of a novel about one woman’s outrageous web of lies and the people caught in it. The Fake is a mordantly funny tale, as enthralling as it is emotionally astute.”—Antonia Angress, author of Sirens & Muses

“I read Zoe Whittall’s newest novel in a single fevered page-turning session. At once a romp, a cautionary tale, and a thriller, The Fake taps so deeply into our human foibles, into the many ways that loss and grief can make us vulnerable in both friendship and in love. Whittall’s writing is as sharp and funny as ever. I loved this novel.”—Amy Stuart, author of the Still Mine series

“Cammie is one of my new favorite villains. We have all met a Cammie. Maybe we have even been seduced by one. You will be by this one, and The Fake, Whittall’s live-wire novel that had me turning pages late into the night.”—Jordan Tannahill, author of The Listeners
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The Fake


Shelby hides in the closet and calls her father. It’s a primal, childlike thing to do, to call your dad when you’re in danger. If you have a good father, anyway, and Shelby’s is one of the best. Also, she is maybe still a bit drunk, not thinking clearly. Voicemail. He’s the kind of dad who insists on singing his outgoing message to the tune of “Born in the U.S.A.”—The Roberstons ARE not HOME! Soooo LEAVE A Message at the TONE!—with her mother’s voice in the background telling him to just stop it already.

“I think there’s someone in the house. I’m hiding in the closet. Can you come over?” Her heart sprints in place. The dog is no use in this situation. Coach Taylor Swift, a simple-minded but precious rescue pug, is now resting on a tattered quilt in the corner licking his asshole like nothing is wrong. Shelby pushes the mountain of dirty clothes in front of the closed closet door to block any sound. She rummages around on the stack of boxed shelves above the dog and finds a pair of Kate’s ice skates. She pulls off the purple plastic guard around the blades and shines her phone’s light on them so she doesn’t accidentally cut herself. This could be a weapon. She holds one skate by the ankle. If Kate were still alive, she’d have gotten up and grabbed the bat they kept under the bed and charged toward the kitchen turning on every light and singing the chorus to that annoying counting song from Rent that somehow sounded menacing the way she sang it. Shelby always misses Kate but she especially misses her now, her butch bravado, except when it came to spiders or wet paper in the sink. Spiders are the femme’s domain, Kate said the day they moved in together, standing on a kitchen stool after seeing a daddy longlegs hanging out in the space between the fridge and the wall, ruling over a veritable city of baby spiders. Though Shelby is afraid of most things, she doesn’t mind spiders. She’d cupped and carried them to the window and set them free into the boxed herb garden as Kate improvised a thank-you song, still safely standing on the stool, fingers touching the ceiling.

Shelby texts her dad. The message goes green, which means he’s turned on airplane mode to sleep. Of course her father probably isn’t looking at his cellphone, he still uses it like a walkie-talkie. She tries the landline again. They don’t pick up. She remembers her parents have gone to the symphony. She’d gone to bed an hour ago, but other adults who aren’t dangerously depressed are still out having a good time right now. Should she call 911? What if it was no one? Everyone already thinks she’s going crazy. She scrolls through her contacts. Who are her friends? The ones close enough to call in moments like this? When you no longer have a partner, you have to rank your friends in order of most useful in an emergency. Her ICE listing was Kate. Whose phone was currently in a little Ziploc bag in their shared nightstand with her keys, receipts, and the contents of her pockets from the day she died. There’s Carol Jo, the person who lives closest, but Shelby had blocked and deleted her number the week before. So she texts Gibson. This is going to sound crazy, but do you know where she is right now? Because I’m worried she’s in my house. She made some threats. He calls her back. She so recently considered him an enemy, someone not to be trusted, that it’s still odd to see his name pop up. She puts the phone to her ear and whispers, “I’m hiding in the closet.”

“Look, until today I would have said you’re overreacting, that she was only a harm to herself, but I honestly don’t know what she’s capable of anymore. Stay where you are. I’m coming over.”

Shelby hangs up. It’s very quiet in the house for five agonizing minutes, so quiet she contemplates just going out to see what’s really going on. She has a brief flickering euphoric feeling of If I die, I die! Like she does whenever there is in-flight turbulence, or when a taxi driver speeds like a madman through the city and she’s too nonconfrontational to say anything. It’s a light feeling in her chest, a release of the illusion of control over her circumstances. Then Coach Taylor whines a little. She has to stay alive for Coach, a dog with such a complicated daily system of medications and nurturance needed just to be baseline okay. Maybe it’s just a raccoon in the garbage—this is Toronto, after all—or a vicious wind in the yard. Perhaps an ordinary robber who is strong-arming her flatscreen and going on his way. She reaches over to scratch Coach’s head, which makes them both feel sleepy. Maybe she should just go back to bed. She is lolling into what her therapist calls sensory underwhelm when she hears the sound of gunshots and breaking glass.

About the Author

Zoe Whittall
Zoe Whittall is the author of five novels, including the recent bestseller The Fake, which was longlisted for the Toronto Book Award. The New York Times called her fourth novel, The Spectacular, a “highly readable testament to the strength of the maternal bond.” Her third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her second novel, Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary Award and was an American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book. Her debut novel, Bottle Rocket Hearts, won the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize. She is also a Canadian Screen Award–winning TV writer. She lives in Prince Edward County. More by Zoe Whittall
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