The capsule review first: While Jim Lynch’s newly released novel Truth Like the Sun didn’t give me the sense of wonder that I got from his Border Songs, it ought to find a wide and interested audience. It offers a deeply engaging intersection of stories from the 1962 World’s Fair with stories from Seattle’s municipal election nearly forty years later, especially a young reporter’s efforts to bring these stories together, and in consequence it’ll excite readers with all sorts of interests. If I didn’t have Border Songs to compare it to, I’d call this a wonderful novel, because for most authors it would be -- but I’m left feeling like Lynch is a terrific writer whose current novel is very good, but who found magic last time.
As it happens, my home equips me properly to review Truth Like the Sun, Jim Lynch’s new novel about (among other things) the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. Attentive readers of this blog will know that I live just outside Seattle, really in the outer ambit of Greater Seattle.
And while by “just outside Seattle” I actually mean Canada, nearly three hours away by high-speed catamaran, I say this because Seattle -- like America more broadly -- has always been symbolically important for people in BC. It’s the closest outpost of America The Beautiful, and hence the largest city nearest to us; it’s Sleepless in Seattle, for Pete’s sake, and it’s both Microsoft (damn you!) and Starbucks (…reluctant appreciation…). Victoria novelists regularly take their characters to Seattle, most recently Robert Wiersema in his brilliant recent novel Bedtime Story, so it’s a shadow presence even at home here.
But I don’t know Seattle, not at all. Obviously Cherie Priest’s steampunk Boneshaker doesn’t represent contemporary Seattle, what with the zombies and the airships and whatnot, but I’m a little nervous about judging the verisimilitude of Jim Lynch’s Seattle in Truth Like the Sun. Specifically, I don’t have a clue about whether the assorted criminality has any connection to reality: I can’t imagine Lynch could get away with imposing criminal profiles on characters from the World’s Fair, since 50 years isn’t really that long, and it shouldn’t have mattered to me, but somehow I got distracted repeatedly anyway.
Let’s get past the quibbles, though. In Truth Like the Sun, Lynch generates a whole roster of believable, interesting characters, and routes them through a manageably complex plot that will keep readers engaged all the way to the powerful closing pages. The advertisers lionized in Mad Men weren’t the only people in the 1960s inventing the modern world, and Lynch delivers a wonderful portrait of an entirely different group of dreamers.
I do wish some characters at the Post-Intelligencer had been a little less stock, and I wish Roger Morgan’s closest family in 1962 had been portrayed with more precision, but you can’t have it all. It’s a novel that I kept imagining on screen, so I do hope it gets optioned, and not just because Lynch’s Meredith Stein is the sexiest 60s woman since Christina Hendricks’ Joan, though Meredith’s an example of how well Lynch can bring together all kinds of angles.
But I want to close this review, perhaps oddly, by remembering a different novel, namely Matthew Hooton’s Deloume Road. The further I get from my reading of Hooton’s debut, the fonder I get of it, and Lynch’s Truth Like the Sun helped clarify my response to Deloume Road. Basically, Lynch’s novel is fast-moving and stuffed with characters and light on extraneous detail, and in consequence it’s an easy book to get excited about; Hooton’s novel is deliberate, and so short of characters as to be nearly claustrophobic, and obsessively detailed, and in consequence I came away feeling like I’d be a better person if I could just love it uncomplicatedly.
You know what? Hooton’s is a complicated, demanding novel, and I’m coming around to the idea that my relationship to it should be complicated as well. I didn’t devote the time to it that I might have, while I was reading it, but Deloume Road is a valuable enough book that it’s continuing to force me to devote time to think about it, weeks later.
Where does that leave Truth Like the Sun, given that I’ve just complimented Hooton’s novel for being hard to engage with, and given that I’ve called Lynch’s novel easy to get excited about? Can a novel be too easy to get excited about, and if one can, is Lynch’s that novel? Let me answer it this way: I really enjoyed Truth Like the Sun, and I’ll bet that it pleases just about everyone who tries it. Totally worth your time.
Disclosure: I want to thank Inkwell Management for providing an ARC to a humble blogger, especially without offering even a hint of what they'd like a possible review to say. That's how you do literary PR, people!