History and memory are two of my favorite subjects to see addressed in literature so some of my favorite novels to read are ones where the two meet head on, like in Annie Barrows’ upcoming The Truth According to Us. Beyond history and memory, family bonds and loyalty as well as growing up and learning what it means to be an adult are also addressed and explored at length.
Macedonia is a small town in West Virginia that’s trying to find the right way to commemorate their sesquicentennial in 1938, so they commission one of the Great Depression’s relief programs to send someone who can compile a short book about their town and its history. Layla Beck, a spoiled young woman of privilege whose Senator father decides to teach her a lesson, find herself boarding in Macedonia with the Romeyn family while she works on her first job, the writing of this obscure town’s history. It turns out the Romeyn family have played a significant role in town but have had a strained relationship with much of its people since a divisive incident in 1920. Josephine “Jottie” Romeyn raises her brother, Felix’s two girls while proving to be a valuable source for Layla. Willa, the older of the two girls, struggles with wanting to be included in the adults’ world but learns quickly that being grown up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that what people say and do isn’t always the truth. From different angles and for different reasons, both Willa and Layla begin digging up the past and become particularly interested in the events of 1920, threatening a delicate balance in the process.
Willa’s portions are the only ones told in the first person, which I think was done to highlight her immature perspective (and I think it was an effective, if at times annoying, decision). It took a while for that particular voice to find its way and was at its most compelling in the final chapters of the novel. Narratively, the novel also gives insight into Jottie and Layla. The focus on these three female protagonists is what so efficiently ensures the well-rounded nature and careful balance of the narrative. There are many threads at work in the story that very gradually weave together into a tighter, intricate pattern that celebrates the different ways women can be strong.
Of the three central figures, Jottie’s story is the one I found most compelling. Perhaps this is because she is the one directly shaped by the tragedy of 1920 in which she lost not only the man she loved but the faith she had placed in him as well. Always close to her brother, Felix, it was the events of 1920 and their aftermath that cemented her unflinching loyalty to him and her love for his daughters further strengthened that bond. But it is ultimately that love for his girls that leads her to finally begin questioning his decisions and the truth of what she remembers in order to start looking inward at what she wants for herself and what would be best for the girls. Despite the tragedy in her past, Jottie has a tremendous sense of humor and shows a great capacity for forgiveness and tolerance. The relationships between her, Willa, and Felix are the novel’s emotional core and are what keep the resolution grounded, believable, and satisfying. The resolution isn’t clean or convenient, but it isn’t hopeless or depressing either.
The Truth According to Us will be available June 9, 2015.