Building lies is like building a house of cards: one false step and the whole delicate structure comes tumbling down. This is the premise that Katrina Kittle purports in TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, a halfhearted tale of suspense, lies, and redemption.
Centered on the fictional theater world of Cincinnati, Ohio, Kittle's creations are more self-aware than anyone I've ever met in the creative arts. The believable self-destructive tendencies of these artistic temperaments --- alcoholism, drug addiction, smoking, denial --- are contrasted with improbably intense soul-searching and restraint.
Dair Canard, the alcoholic actress, is a pathological liar who agonizes every time she lies. She should save herself the worry because she ends up lying less than she thinks. Peyton, Dair's tap-dancing husband, is a recovering heroin addict whose own struggle is somehow not compromised by enabling Dair. Kittle's attempt to create a character-driven novel with these two tormented souls, while commendable, doesn't quite succeed.
TWO TRUTHS tries to be a psychological novel that explores the conflict of self vs. self. While the characters have enough angst to do so, they don't have any lasting moments of clarity. Their struggles with themselves lack progression. After a while, I wondered how many ways Kittle could describe the "whine" of addiction in Peyton's head without forcing him to confront it (I'm still counting). For all of Dair's agonizing, it isn't a decision to make amends that causes her to reveal her lies to Peyton. Instead, she blurts out her story on an impulse born of his trust and the aftermath of good sex. The action, whatever the prompt, was much needed to kick start the conflict's movement.
Similar impulsive moments litter the second half of the novel as Kittle brings the background story to the forefront. At the start of TWO TRUTHS, Peyton's best friend and one of Dair's fellow actors commits suicide. Dair and Peyton are convinced that Craig's untimely death was murder, so everyone in Dair's life suddenly seems to be hiding something. Handicapped by their own worries, the two do not make much headway with the mystery until Dair's mother reveals she can communicate with animals. The animals spur their human friends to action by sharing key images of Craig's last moments, of intruders, and of the murderer. Thankfully, this preternatural help combines with the sudden impulsiveness of the characters to forward the story to its conclusion.
Kittle draws TWO TRUTHS to a close with a flurry of activity and realizations. The intervention of the animals leads to the murderer's capture in a thrilling cat-and-mouse game. Peyton and Dair's overwhelming love repairs their troubled souls when they realize that they can only quiet their addictions through each other. The former is a satisfying denouement to a mystery. The latter is an easy way to conclude the self-angst, once the sustaining plot has been solved.
As Kittle's second novel, TWO TRUTHS perhaps suffered from a too-quick publication. The lyricism of TRAVELING LIGHT, published in 2000, continues in TWO TRUTHS almost without pause. Kittle's accessible narrative voice, however, is not enough to carry the tedious characters nor does it create as much sympathy as they deserve. If the author takes more time to contemplate her next novel, expect it to be a thought-provoking delight. In the meantime, TWO TRUTHS, with its glimpses of philosophy and understanding, will whet the appetites of Kittle's fans.
Reviewed by Amee Vyas on January 24, 2011
Two Truths and a Lie