Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'All the Truth' will keep you guessing

Review: "All the Truth," by Laura Brodie (July 3, 2012, Berkley Trade Paperback Original, $15, 287 pp.)

I brought this novel with me on a recent multi-day visit to my mom and stepdad, along with other unread novels and magazines - whatever was piling up on my nightstand. I parked myself on a comfortable lounge chair on their shaded porch with a lake view, which is the utmost perfect place for reading, and dove into "All the Truth." The next day I left the paperback lying about when I went off to play golf with my stepfather.

Several hours later I returned home to find my mom sitting in that same chair, engrossed in the novel. "Do you mind that I'm reading your book?" she asked sweetly, not putting it down. Not really, I thought, as I pick up a magazine instead. After all, I had a bunch of other things to read. But her ardor made me become even more intrigued in the novel. My mom was fully caught up in "All the Truth," had far surpassed my bookmark, and ended up finishing the near 300-page novel in ONE DAY.

When she finished I started it up again. After a bit, my mom asked innocently, "What part are you reading now?" I told her and she responded, "So, you haven't gotten to the twist yet?"

Um, no. And now I knew there was a big twist coming.

Just last night I finally did finish the suspenseful "All the Truth." It took me several days (I'm no speed-reader like my mom). And there is indeed a giant twist that I will not reveal here because it would ruin the book for you. Truly.

After my mom's comments, I started to try to guess aloud what the book's twist was, and she just shook her head. Thankfully, the big plot change wasn't something I could simply guess at - that would be soooo boring.

And boring, Brodie's novel is not. It draws you in from page 1 with a tale of a violent act involving a mother, daughter and three college students on a late spring night in rural Virginia.

The lives of the mother, Emma Greene, her daughter Maggie and the three students, Kyle, Jacob and Sandy, change instantly and drastically during the course of a few minutes.

Just like the author, the character Emma is an English professor at a small college in Virginia. Her husband is out of town the night in question, when the three students - who have been drinking - happen upon the creek near the home where Emma has just put her 5-year-old to bed. The students' voices carry to Emma's home, and she goes outside and politely asks them to move along, so as not to disturb her daughter. They agree, but first, the girl wants to use Emma's bathroom. Emma concedes, and the girl and her boyfriend, Kyle (Kleptomaniac Kyle), go to the house while Emma chats with the other boy. Emma and Jacob meander back toward the house and Emma sees that the students have been where they shouldn't have been - upstairs, where her daughter is sleeping, and that Kyle's pockets are stuffed full of Maggie's toys.

Emma is enraged, and threatens to recommend the students for expulsion from the college. The three are seniors who will graduate in a week's time, and the threat is not taken lightly.

The shocking thing that happens next happens quickly and irrevocably. Young Maggie witnesses the act from the top of the stairs. She knows what happened, but the reader is kept in the dark, with bits of details of that night and its aftermath unraveled throughout the tale.

The story is told from the vacillating viewpoints of Emma and Maggie. The point of view switches back and forth from the time of the violent act to a time 9 years later, when Maggie is a high school freshman still very much affected by the incident.

Brodie writes with the sensitivity of a mother, a college professor, and a woman. It's a quick read, obviously. You will want to know what happens. What you believe is the truth will change through the course of the novel. And you'll see that the truth about that fateful night is different to different characters.

The novel gets its title from an Emily Dickenson poem, "Tell All the Truth."

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth's superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

Book summary (from the author's website):

     Emma was smoothing a blanket across her daughter's shoulders when she first heard the voices. They rose in quiet syllables from the open window, long vowel sounds combined with the rolling consonance of her backyard creek. Occasionally a girl's high laugh punctuated the lower tones, then all fell silent...

    When three college students stray from a party onto the rural property of their former professor, a casual encounter devolves into a violent confrontation. Nine years later three of the characters present on that night must unravel the truth about what happened and come to terms with its aftermath.

About the author:

Laurie Brodie is a Harvard graduate with a PhD in English from the University of Virginia. She is the author of "The Widow's Season" as well as two works of nonfiction: "One Good Year: A Mother and Daughter's Educational Adventure" and "Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women." A visiting professor of English at Washington and Lee University, Brodie resides in Lexington, Va. with her family. She is the mother of three girls.

Win this book:

If you would like to "win" my slightly dogeared review copy of Laura Brodie's new novel "All the Truth," courtesy of The Berkley Publishing Group, simply comment on this post with your email address. If you're selected as winner (at random), I'll contact you to find out where to mail the book. If no one comments or otherwise claims the book it will be donated to The Mercury's Community Media Lab.


Tracie R. said...

Can't you just tell me what happens and save me the time of reading the book? :)

Michelle Karas said...

Nooooo Tracie! Where's the fun in that?

Silvercrown said...

It's me again, Michelle, Geri. This one sounds really intriguing!

Michelle Karas said...

Congrats to Geri of St. Peters, PA, who is the winner of this book giveaway.