Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Truth or Something Like It by Curtis Smith

Curtis Smith

Casperian Books, 2010

Sex. Murder. Drugs. Religion. Politics. This novel has it all. It’s even got sports! And despite a somewhat predictable plot, the book hangs together for an exciting romp through a dangerous world that isn’t as unbelievable as it sometimes seems.

Glen Tate is a high school wrestling coach and minder of the school’s misfits. He’s also in triple recovery: from the death of his brother, from the collapse of his engagement, and from an accident in which the son of presidential candidate Arthur Lyndon has been killed. Tate is a good guy, who relates well to his oddball students and others on society’s fringe, but this triple-trauma gives him one spectacularly bad idea: to visit his home town in order to stop his ex–fiancé’s wedding to a rich used car dealer. And so, with sidekick Charlie as his “moral rudder,” he sets off on his quixotic adventure. Along the way, he does battle with the politico’s goons and rescues a damsel in distress from her boss (it’s worse than that, though—she’s the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold), and eventually gets his priorities right.

So there are some familiar elements and stock characters here, which in some books might be bothersome, but two things make this book stand out.

First, the principal antagonist, the billionaire presidential candidate Arthur Lyndon, is truly scary, given this disturbing age of shrill public discourse and deluded, mindless followers of political movements based on lies. The message here is that devotion can be bought, and it doesn’t matter what the truth is. It doesn’t matter that the candidate’s son was a meth freak, and it doesn’t matter that the miracle of his image appearing on the wall where he died is a fraud. It doesn’t matter that the guy’s henchmen will stoop at nothing to protect their leader. The man has stirred up a mob of followers who cannot be reasoned with and who won’t listen—and they remind me of the crazy Tea Partiers who are currently making a lot of noise, at least in my part of the country. The irony is that the fictional campaign’s slogan is “Lyndon = Truth,” and our hero knows that’s nonsense.

Second, though, Glen Tate, who at first seems no better than Lyndon’s gutless followers, turns out to be character with a lot of depth, and a worthy adversary for Lyndon. Tate is flawed, in a big way, but of course that’s what makes him interesting. He says the wrong things sometimes and he makes some really bad decisions. He has relationship problems, to put it mildly. But he’s a character who makes sense. He had deep admiration for his late brother, and is still struggling to come to grips with a senseless death and also to repair ties with his divorced parents. And there are the women in his life—Linda, whose marriage he wants to stop, and his current girlfriend, Mel, who’s got some problems of her own. I like this Tate.

Then there’s the language of the novel, which is crisp, clever, and fast paced. Here’s a sample from Tate’s interaction with a fellow teacher:
“Metal doors slammed in the locker room. The rolling undertones of newly deepened voices echoed off the concrete floors and shower tile. Glen knocked on the pebbled glass of the gym teacher’s office door and peeked inside. Nick Price had drawn the department’s short stick in this, his last year before retirement, and since September, he’d made his displeasure about working with the dungeon crew painfully obvious, their classes full of eye rolls and disgusted sighs. Nick sported a squared-off flattop that would have made Johnny Unitas jealous, and his ever-present white T-shirt wrapped his bullish torso like a second skin.”
So even if the reader has a sense of where this story is going, there are enough twists and turns and bells and whistles to make the ride great fun and worthwhile—and memorable.

No comments: