Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
The Truth According to Us came to an
end, I didn't want it to. I had fallen in love with all the characters, flawed
as they were, and wanted to stay with them. That said, the novel's conclusion
tied things up in a satisfying way: a bit surprising, entirely believable, and
with a feeling of grace and warmth.
setting is the fictional West Virginia town of Macedonia in the summer of 1938.
Times are hard for the Romeyn family, not least because of a tragic event nineteen
years before, which is not spoken of, except obliquely. Twelve-year-old Willa,
daughter of traveling salesman Felix, is consumed with curiosity about the
secrets she feels sure her Aunt Jottie is hiding from her, and decides to find
out the truth. Meanwhile, Layla Beck, the pampered daughter of a rich New
Jersey man, has refused to marry according to her father's wishes. He cuts off
her allowance and arranges for her to get a job with the Federal Writers'
Project, which sends her to Macedonia to research and write a history of the
town for its sesquicentennial celebration.
The novel is full of wry humor. Macedonia's head councilman expects Layla to steer clear of certain sensitive subjects and stress beloved myths, like the "valor and derring-do" of his ancestor, the town's founder. While Layla begins to uncover alternative, less complimentary traditions, Willa begins to learn bits and pieces that contradict the vague reassurances Jottie has given her about her father's travels, her mother's absence, and their family's loss of status since the time when her grandfather ran the local factory. Although the reader, like Layla and Willa, burns with curiosity, The Truth According to Us asks: Is it always good to know the truth, or are the times when it either cannot or should not be learned? To its credit, the novel doesn't force one answer or the other, but leaves the question for readers to ponder. (2015; 491 pages, including an Acknowledgments section discussing the facts behind the fiction)More about The Truth According to Us at Powell's Books or The Book Depository