Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Truth According to Us

Title:  The Truth According to Us
Author:  Annie Barrows
Publication Information:  The Dial Press. 2015. 512 pages.
ISBN:  0385342942 / 978-0385342940

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In 1938, the year I was twelve, my hometown of Macedonia, West Virginia, celebrated is sesquicentennial, a word I thought had to do with fruit for the longest time."

Favorite Quote:  "He was lying; I could hear it the way you hear a tune and you what the next note is; you know how it goes. I wondered how many times I'd heard him lie, to know so well what it sounded like."

The biggest aspect of the publicity for this book is that it is written by Annie Barrows, one of the authors of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society several years ago and remember really enjoying it. (In my pre-blog days. So, no review) The title alone is memorable! That is my reason for wanting to read this book. I started eagerly, ready to love it.

My reaction at the end is mixed. My reaction to this book is similar to my reaction to A Place for Us by Harriet Evans. Both are slow moving portraits with a lot of characters and family secrets coming out. Both books have elements that work, and both would get a higher rating from me with a little bit less in them.

The "Us" in this book is primarily the Romeyn family, long time residents of Macedonia, West Virginia. Felix and his sister Jottie live in town and are raising Felix's daughters, Willa and Bird. Layla Beck is the outsider. She comes to Macedonia to compile its history as part of the Federal Writer's Project. Truly, she comes to Macedonia having earned her father's wrath. She becomes a boarder at the Romeyn home. She gets pulled in to the history of the town, which is entwined with the history of the Romeyn. As history emerges, so do secrets, changing the family forever.

What works in this book is the historical background. The Federal Writers' Project was an actual program created by the US Work Progress Administration to provide jobs for white-collar workers in the 1930s. The employment was to create guidebooks for different US locales and resources. The project lasted only a few years before being absorbed into other programs. I find it fascinating to think that the US government set out to create jobs for writers and historians!

What works in this book is the setting. The 1930s Depression era small town of Macedonia, West Virginia is captured for its Southern-ness, its cast of personalities, its smallness, and even its sweltering summer heat. It becomes a vivid canvas for the small town intrigues and the family saga this book entails. What doesn't work is that the book is too detailed. Not all the history and descriptions included are necessary; at times, the book seems to drag on. Even at over 500 pages, the length alone is never an issue; it's the seemingly unneeded length. How many time is it necessary to be reminded of the sweltering hot summer?

What works in this book are the quirky characters - particularly Jottie, Layla, and Willa. Jottie is the older woman from a small Southern town. She has seen a lot in life and lives with the ghosts of her past. Layla is the young debutante and the daughter of a senator. She has pushed her father too far and is shipped off to earn her keep. Layla is muddling her way through her current dilemma. Willa is the plucky, precocious twelve years old, who is trying to figure out her family past and her own future direction. Her curiosity opens doors long closed and brings secrets long buried to light. The three provide an interesting set of perspectives to move the story forward. What doesn't work, however, is the very slow pace of the book. Nothing much happens until well into the book when secrets begin to come out. Secrets emerge, and then the slow pace resumes. Through much of the book, I find myself skimming over the details to get to the plot and, hence, not fully engaged in the characters. So, I liked the book; I just didn't love it.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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