What: True Story
Publication date: 4 August 2020
Written by: Kate Reed Petty
Published by: Quercus
True Story, by Kate Reed Petty, is the first book I have read from start to finish without getting sidetracked by other books in a very long time. It is also the first book, I think, I have ever read which made me want to start again straight away.
True story is unique in its construction although it has a very clear provenance from James Joyce's Ulysses.This horror/crime novel is written as a collection of literary styles, all of them swirling in a Vorticist style, to bring us a sense of truth in a world built on stories.
Petty's writing always has a sense of being a third party, almost witnessing, account. It is something about the short sentences and the dearth of metaphors and similes which give it a dispassionate, straight to the point kind of feel. Add to that her penchant for using alternate text forms to tell the story, and you have the feeling that you are putting together the story or 'case' just as if you are a detective.
It is also what makes elements of this tale so visceral and terrifying. There is something about 'witnessing' horrifyingly inevitable events dispassionately which really gets the heart thumping in frustrated terror. I found myself wanting to scream at the pages to tell the characters not to do what they are about to do, just like I do when watching horror movies... It's like watching a landslide and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop the rocks from falling.
I say there is an ancestral link to Ulysses because, just like Joyce, Reed writes every part of the story in a different format and/or a different point of view. There is standard prose in a mix of first, second, and third person syntax. There is film script. There is transcript.
What adds edge and confusion and what keeps the reader on the back foot is that within all of these styles, Reed also breaks the formatting rules. Italics instead of quotation marks, left justified dialogue in screenplays, paragraphs headers as chapter titles, there are no page numbers - only locations and the numerical sequence is linear by not consecutive. And there is font carnage!
Everything about True Story is designed to keep us asking questions and the answers are never where we expect them to be and are not what we are led to believe. This novel really does keep throwing up surprises from start to finish. In fact, the first 2 chapters had me completely baffled (don't worry, they are short), and I wondered if there was a problem with the galley I was reading.
The book is not perfect, but it is certainly one of the most entertaining I have read in a long time. The second 'chapter' doesn't quite do what I think it intends and the last chapter doesn't work for me at all. There is still essential information in it but it feels apologetic to some degree in a way I don't think the rest of the novel reflects. I also sometimes struggled to now if I was in Alice's story or Haley's.
Nick is an incredibly well drawn character - the best in the book - and I admit I find myself impresses which just how insightful Reed is about men and male behaviour. Whilst True Story is a mystery/thriller (despite the horrible cover art), it is really a seminal text on toxic masculinity and how it propogates in our world and changes our world. It begs the question 'are the true monsters the perpetrators of abuse or are they the people who create a world view which normalises, pardons, and then dismisses it?'
Men should read this book. Fathers should read this book and then give it to their sons to read. This is information the world needs and this is a mirror men need to find and fix the root causes of why and how women are so very disadvantaged and oppressed in modern society. Yes, it is a feminist text, but it is not a book for feminists.