A Version of the Truth
In their sophomore novel, A VERSION OF THE TRUTH, Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack spin the tale of a late bloomer’s reinvention of herself and a lie that threatens to undo it all.
Just as their central character, Dora, was charming and neurotic in their debut novel, LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A., the spotlight this time is on the likable but troubled Cassie Shaw, who is 30, newly widowed and needs a job. Her credentials aren’t enough to get her much more than a “want fries with that?” sort of gig; her dyslexia made traditional learning difficult. Cassie quit school at 16 after she flunked the second, third and ninth grades, making do with a high school equivalency test. Come to think of it, “late bloomer” might be a generous term.
Cassie is neither grieving the death of her husband Frank, a cheater and a liar, nor regretting leaving her part-time job as a cashier at his towing business to work at the wildlife center. Up until now, she has given most of her love to her mom and her African gray parrot, Sam, a character in his own right.
The lovely backdrop to Cassie’s story is the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and Topanga Canyon, a half hour from L.A. There, she lives with her affable hippy mother, who charmingly still believes in Bigfoot and, most importantly, Cassie.
The story opens as --- after lying on her résumé and inventing a college degree --- Cassie lands an entry-level job at a university doing office work and odd jobs for a group of professors in the behavioral science department. Once in academia, she gets a physical makeover (expensive dress, better hair) and begins an interior makeover as well. Soon, she is immersed in classes and classic literature, and for the first time feels that she’s on the verge of becoming a woman she can be proud of. Men follow, including the wealthy Freddy and the charming Conner, along with a (literally) steamy sex scene and a session where she’s sharing hits on a bong. Cassie is never sure if she’s just a one-night stand to be trifled with, or if she’ll ever be taken seriously. And despite her age, she comes across as immature. The reader will need to resist shouting, “Grow up!” which perhaps is the authors’ intention.
Kaufman and Mack’s first-person narration allows the reader to run the gamut of emotions Cassie feels in a personal way. Tiff, her best friend who is rough around the edges and always in trouble, is the believable, down-home, partying girlfriend who reminds Cassie of where she came from. Shoplifting, getting drunk and causing a ruckus, Tiff alternately cheers Cassie up, embarrasses her, or gets her into hot water.
Of course, there is that little matter of the résumé. It’s a foregone conclusion for the reader that Cassie is going to be burned by it in the end. What makes the trip through the pages interesting is Cassie herself --- a lost soul with plenty of pluck whose mistakes don’t keep her from forging ahead, although not without misgivings.
Humor leavens the text, and there are some inviting nature tidbits. One of my favorite moments that brings the two together: when the migrating monarch butterflies swirl around her, Cassie muses, “Legend says they are the souls of dead relatives returning home. Lord, I hope not.” Anyone who has ever been in academia --- whether as a teacher or a student --- will resonate with some of the scenes involving bored students on field trips or drunken faculty parties.
A sub-theme of the book, Cassie’s discovery of the are-they-extinct-or-aren’t-they ivory-billed woodpeckers, may stretch the credibility of readers who are bird enthusiasts. She never took a picture of them? Just written notes? Were the birds ever real? Her version of the truth is up for grabs.
More believable is Cassie’s struggle to accept herself for who she is and discover who she can become with the right sort of motivation. This message will be an encouragement to underachievers or women who need to overcome a difficult past.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at email@example.com. on April 25, 2011
A Version of the Truth
- Publication Date: December 26, 2007
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Delacorte Press
- ISBN-10: 0385340192
- ISBN-13: 9780385340199