Truth Like the Sun” by Jim Lynch (2012) – 254 pages
“It didn’t seem fair or accurate to me. I didn’t recognize the man they wrote about. Life is a challenging and often inexplicable odyssey that doesn’t translate easily into newspaper stories.”
Even though the characters in this novel are entirely fictional, “Truth Like the Sun” is very much a journalistic novel with all the good and not-so-good qualities that means. One of the main characters is a journalist, the other is a politician and the writing in the novel has a lot in common with good newspaper writing.
Fifty years ago in 1962, the Seattle World’s Fair was going strong. This was perhaps a high point in United States optimism. We had a new young President in John F. Kennedy. The Space Race was in its early stages with John Glenn’s flight orbiting the Earth only months earlier. The Vietnam War hadn’t started yet. And this was the Mad Men era.
The Seattle Space Needle was built for the fair. The Space Needle is still the tallest structure in Seattle, and contains a rotating restaurant on its top which is still in business. It originally rotated once every hour but since then has been speeded up to accommodate more restaurant customers. Elvis Presley even filmed a movie at the Seattle Fair while it was in progress, “It Happened at the World’s Fair’.
“Truth Like the Sun” by Jim Lynch is very much a Seattle novel. Chapters of the novel which take place during the 1962 World’s Fair alternate with chapters which take place in Seattle in 2001. . I preferred the World’s Fair chapters over the others, perhaps because the Fair still has a glow in my mind. The novel’s plot concerns one of the movers and shakers responsible for putting together the World’s Fair in 1962 running for mayor of Seattle in 2001.
As I stated before, this is a journalistic novel. The ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how’ are all presented clearly and lucidly in steady prose The entire story is laid out precisely and in an easy-to-follow fashion. It reminded me of the Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey novels such as “Seven Days in May” and “Convention” which I read in high school/
So what is missing? The first sentence above which I quoted from the novel is as good as any explanation of what is missing in this novel. Missing are those qualities of life which are inexplicable and a mystery. These are the flaky idiosyncratic qualities that separate great art from journalism. Journalism and reporting are just too rational to capture life in its entirety.
Maybe the best example I can give is when Elvis Presley shows up in the novel. There’s a fair amount of dialogue involving Elvis, but it never captures the down-home sincerity and backwoods humor of the real Elvis. In the novel, Elvis doesn’t seem to talk much differently from the other characters.
“Truth Like the Sun” is quite a good novel, but doesn’t quite capture the wondrous strangeness of life.