Truth and Other Lies by Maggie Smith
Ten 16 Press, Waukesha, WI, 2022
Women’s Fiction, 346 pages
Reviewed by Joan Bauer
Megan Barnes’s dream life in New York has fallen apart: her boyfriend is cheating, and she’s just lost a plum job. As she boomerangs home to Chicago, she says to herself, “God, I hated being a cliché.”
To Megan’s chagrin, her mother, Helen Watkins, is running for congress as a pro-life Republican. Determined not to engage with either her mother or her campaign, Megan bumps into her idol, the prize-winning journalist Jocelyn Jones, and asks for her help in landing a newspaper job. But it won’t be that easy. First, Megan must join the publicity team promoting Jones’ forthcoming memoir. When Jones is attacked by an internet troll, Megan goes from damage control to seeking the truth, putting herself and her family at considerable emotional risk.
Smith gives the pro-life movement pretty short shrift; a more even-handed approach would better reflect that people of goodwill really do disagree on this issue. It’s disheartening to watch pro-life standard-bearer Helen Watkins undermine her own case. In fact, Helen’s story—her secret--is so compelling that I found myself wondering why she hadn’t shared it herself on the campaign trail a long time ago.
Still, there are many grace-filled moments throughout. After a heart-to-heart talk with her mother, Megan reflects that “I’d never sensed the sorrow my mother carried around, never realized her hovering hid a deep, personal wound.” The changes in Megan’s point of view over time are deftly handled. And Jocelyn’s breakdown is equally resonant: when you turn sixty, she says, “your life becomes all about fear.”
What Megan really needs is a worthy mentor; refreshingly, cyber-investigator Nick Russo steps into the breach. Nick brings clarity along with romance, steadying passionate Megan until she can learn the whole truth. Smith’s writing is hooky and smart; she sticks a nuanced ending with considerable skill. In Truth and Other Lies, she has crafted an ideal book club read in the tradition of Jodi Picoult.
Wisconsin Writers Association
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