There are some books that beg for a summer day, a screen porch or a hammock. Even if your reading spot is a subway seat, Annie Barrows’ The Truth According to Us will whisk you off to the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia in the summer of 1938.
The Romeyn family, long the elite of Macedonia’s business and social circles, has fallen on hard times. Twelve year-old Willa is an astute observer of her family and those around her, unafraid to follow her instincts in search of understanding. Willa and her younger sister, Bird, are raised in the family manse by their Aunt Jottie, who attends to the needs of others while setting aside a life of her own. Divorced, Willa’s father, Felix, is often away as a salesman, or so they have been told. Felix is charismatic, has a way with the ladies, and, in today’s terms, is a “Teflon man.” He is at the center of a tragedy that changed the family’s fortunes and destroyed the dreams of those closest to him.
Layla Beck has been exiled by her senator-father to Macedonia to work on a Federal Writer’s Project history of the town in the hope she will come to her senses and marry the man papa has selected. Coming into the Romeyn home as a paying guest, Layla finds far more than a quiet room in which to do her writing. Layla’s acclimation to small town life is often comical but she is far more dedicated to the task at hand than her family gave her credit. She puts almost as much effort into trying to win the trust of Willa who is distressed by her father’s and Layla’s mutual attraction. Through Layla’s eyes we learn the history of Macedonia, its heroes and its blowhards.
In many ways the local factory is another character moving throughout the story. In its heyday the factory was under the management of Felix and Jottie’s father. The family is long out of the business and the late 1930’s are a period of labor upheaval that reaches all the way to Macedonia. The factory is also the setting for the fire that kills Jottie’s one great love and alters the Romeyn family trajectory forever.
Annie Barrows captures the life and breath of small town America at the crossroads. Even in the midst of the Depression there was a vibrancy in many West Virginia’s towns that has been lost today. The Federal Writer’s Project, contained at the Library of Congress, tells the personal stories of thousands of Americans, including former slaves. By using the Project within her novel, Barrows will likely bring more attention to this treasure.
With twists and turns, mystery and discovery, the Romeyns, Layla and all those in their orbit are transformed. For some, the truth is far more painful than redemptive but the resilience of the human spirit does shine through. The Truth According to Us is a novel to savor like the wonderful fruits of summer. And share it over the back fence or wherever you and your friends gather.
IN A NUTSHELL
- Genre: Fiction
- Locale: West Virginia
- Time: 1938
- Book Group Potential: Very good