Saturday, June 30, 2012

Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch: A review


"I don't have a plan," Elvis volunteers. "I just have a feel. Trying to get a better understanding of myself. The mistakes I make always come back around. Truth is like the sun, isn't it? You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't going away."
That snippet from a conversation between Roger Morgan and Elvis Presley in September 1962 gives Jim Lynch's novel its title and is a quick summation of the plot. Indeed, it could be the summation of the plot of many novels and many lives. The mistakes that we make always seem to come back around, often when we least expect them.

The place is Seattle. The novel switches back and forth between the time of the World's Fair that took place there in 1962 and the year 2001, a time of other momentous events. The man most responsible for the Fair's success was Roger Morgan, the mastermind of it all. It was an event that transformed the city from a sleepy outpost of the past to a place that embraced the future and was a magnet for farsighted thinkers. And Roger was the promoter that brought it all together and made it happen. He was brash and daring as he scrambled about trying to amass the funds to build the iconic Space Needle and all the other pavilions and exhibits. He was dubbed the unofficial mayor of Seattle. He was the man that everyone wanted a piece of.

Forty years later, he is still promoting Seattle, and at 70 years old, he suddenly decides to run to become the mayor for real of his city.

In 2001, reporter Helen Gulanos is new to the city. An investigative reporter with the Post-Intelligencer, she has come here to try to make a journalistic reputation for herself. She is a young single mother trying to raise a pre-school aged son and to make a life for them in a city that she doesn't really know or understand. As fate would have it, she just happens to be present when Roger Morgan announces his decision to run for mayor and her journalistic instincts begin to twitch. She intuits that there is an interesting story here, perhaps one that has not been told, and she determines to tell it.

In digging for her story, Helen begins to find the name of the beloved legend Roger Morgan turning up in some unsavory places - namely in stories of mid-century real-estate scandals, graft, and gambling - and what may have started out as a human interest story takes on the tones of a political expose'. Moreover, it is an expose' being produced under time pressure as the mayoral primary looms.

It also emerges that Helen herself has some secrets she would prefer not to be widely known and it seems that the object of her investigation has an uncanny knowledge and understanding of those secrets. And yet each of these individuals, who may be seen as adversaries, also has a grudging admiration for the style of the other and a sympathy for the problems facing him/her. 

I greatly enjoyed Jim Lynch's two previous novels set in the Northwest, Border Songs and The Highest Tide, but, frankly, I found it difficult to really get "into" this one. The two main characters didn't really grab me at first and I was about two-thirds of the way through before their fates began to somewhat interest me. In fact, even at the end, I was still trying to make up my mind about them.

This novel is a time-traveler. It exists in 1962 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and also in 2001, ending on September 10. Perhaps the message is that everyday sins and tragedies are dwarfed and overwhelmed by the tide of time and events. But, in fact, the truth is like the sun and it isn't going away forever. It always returns. Even in rainy Seattle.

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