Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows

Are you one of the many who read the 2009 surprise hit The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows? What a delightfully charming and fabulous book that was! I remember buying that book from a small, independent book store in Webster Groves (I wonder if that delightful place is still there) at the recommendation of a fellow shopper that day. I began reading it immediately and discovered a true gem.

When I ran across another book by Annie Barrows, coauthor of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I quickly purchased it when I ran across it at the shop on my ereader...and for less than three bucks!

The Truth According to Us is a story about generations, about how each generation relies on the truth of the history of the previous generation and how those stories can box us in or set us free. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the main characters in the book: Willa Romeyn, the eleven year old daughter of the irascible and inscrutable Felix, Jottie Romeyn, sister of Felix,  and Layla Beck, visiting daughter of a NY senator, in town to write a historical treatise of Macedonia West Virginia during the summer of 1938 as the town prepares for their sesquicentennial. These three women clash with and love one another and learn from one another. By writing from each point of view we discover delicious nuance and engaging personality quirks as we view events from a child's perspective and from the perspective of an adult. Quite interesting and often humorous.

Beloved Willa reminded me so much of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird that I envisioned her as young Mary Badham from the 1962 film as I read the book. Always questioning, always longing for...something, always taking risks, knowing that the clean and tidy history she has been told is not true enough. Willa will remind us how confusing it is...this growing up.

Set in the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia, we meet a delightful array of quirky, real characters around the Romeyn family, we learn about past losses and lost loves. As the story progresses, as we page forward, one page at a time, we uncover more and more of each character; we uncover what moves them, motivates them, what they long for.

The unmasking takes much longer for with Felix, the handsome central character who remains hidden, yet beloved by all of the women in his life. The mysteries of his private life keep us turning the pages as more is revealed to those around him. We sincerely hope for things with Felix to be well because his eleven year old daughter is watching him like a hawk and needing him to be good, respectable, and, above all, knowable.

Personal histories, once again, slowly revealed affect each generation of women in different and very personal ways. And we discover that we never really know those around us and I, for one, enjoyed the deepening characterization of each main character.

In the beginning Jottie, Aunt Jottie to Willa and her sister Bird, is quite two dimensional and background. But in the fullness of the read, this woman becomes as beloved and true as Willa to the reader. Her ability to love and forgive is moving beyond words. Jottie's courage, struggle, and eventual personal growth is a highlight from the book. Both Jottie and Layla Beck provide bookends of strength in the Romeyn home, giving the girls Willa and Birdie, truly, women to learn from, though first Layla has alot to learn about what love looks like. More than one person becomes unmasked.

I loved this book.
I have continued to read as voraciously as ever, yet few books bring me to this blog. I knew, almost from page one, that this book was one for the internet. Annie Barrows writes with such spectacular detail, keen and amusing observation, wisdom. Grab some iced tea because this hot summer story of five hundred pages will grab you...you will call your book club leader and recommend this wonderful story of loyalty and forgiveness. Some may say that the many voices in the novel sanitize it a bit or even confused it. Some may dislike the too tidy ending. Myself, I was OK with it because, hey, summer is too hot for anything else.

Overall I would give this book a nice rating of six out of ten stars.