Truth Like the Sun

By Jim Lynch; Knopf (2012) $25.95

Review by Dan Raphael

Jim Lynch book coverWhat makes a city a thriving environment is one of the central questions in Jim Lynch’s new novel, Truth Like the Sun.  Another is “What makes a person whole?”  In Lynch’s  previous novels the characters are reacting to the natural forces around them; in Truth, the characters act upon the environment for their own success in the name of urban pride.

Roger Morgan is the 30 year old PR wunderkind who runs the daily operations and serves as the public face of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. 1962 Seattle is a small city–with Boeing but without Microsoft—with traces of its frontier past and few tall buildings. The fair is Seattle’s coming out party, with great opportunities for developers, politicians & purveyors of illegal pleasures like poker and prostitutes.

Alternate chapters take place 40 years later, in a Seattle coming off the dot.com crash. Roger decides to rescue his city by running for mayor, wanting to, again, propel the city into a shining future. Digging into Roger’s past is Helen Gulanos, a newly arrived reporter specializing in deep investigations. As driven as Roger, she eventually uncovers the truth about who paid for and profited from Seattle’s post fair renaissance.

Especially in the 60’s chapters we learn a lot about Seattle’s history.  Lynch—a journalist by trade—writes smoothly and energetically, with enough verve so that even the drearier aspects of Helen‘s investigation pass painlessly, He loves Seattle and journalism–politics and camaraderie in the newsroom–and gets downright giddy in Fair scenes involving celebrities like LBJ and Elvis.

While this is a well-written book telling an interesting (if not original) story, it lacks the magic and the heart of his two earlier books, The Highest Tide and Border Songs. Maybe because the city lacks the variety of the natural world; maybe because the other two books happen in present time while Truth is anchored in the past. All 3 are coming of age novels: The Highest Tide’s 13 year old Mike O’Malley goes through puberty during the summer of the Puget’s Sounds oddest marine life, while Border Songs 23 year old Brandon Vanderkool finds love and recognition amid the birds, smugglers, fields and farmers of the U.S – Canada border. Roger finds success but never full adulthood.

Lynch clearly loves and sees through the eyes of Mike and Brandon, but  mostly keeps his distance from Roger. And while Truth has a larger cast than the other two, we know the other characters in Highest and Border better, and enjoy most of their company. Maybe it’s that humanity that helps the language sparkle more, plus no city could compete with south Puget Sound or rural Northwest Washington for beauty and surprise.

For those who’ve read Lynch’s  two earlier books, be ready for something different, though also of high quality. If you haven’t read any of these, start with Border Songs, which begins.:  “Everyone remembered the night Brandon Vanderkool flew across the Crawfords’ snowfield and tackled the Prince and Princess of Nowhere.” There’s not enough room in the city for that kind of imagination.