The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows
West Virginia, Summer 1938. Senator’s daughter, Layla Beck, has been tasked with compiling a short history of the small town of Macedonia which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. It’s not exactly a labour of love but rather a punishment meted out by her father for her failure to toe the family line. Designed to support struggling, impoverished writers, teachers and historians during the Great Depression, the Federal Writers Project is not a good fit for Layla who finds herself flung into an alien world, lodging with the Romeyn family.
With a variety of narrative styles, from 12 year old Willa Romeyn, her maiden aunt Jottie and correspondence between Layla and her family, the scene is set for a mystery to unfold and small town secrets to spill.
I’m an avowed fan of well written fiction set in smalltown America as it usually serves up a delightful array of local characters with distinctive quirks and traits. Macedonia is no exception, with its pretentious local gentility keen to influence Layla and rewrite history. By contrast, the Romeyns seem more down to earth but there seems to have been some editing re their past also.
Never fear, young Willa is on the case and she is determined to grow closer to her errant father, Felix, by discovering what he actually does during his long absences from home. She is a really likeable, feisty, intelligent girl, fiercely protective of her unconventional family. Her aunt Jottie is the cornerstone of the family – indeed most of the female characters out-shadow their hapless menfolk!
The sweltering summer heat echoes the oppressive nature of this small town where everyone knows, or thinks they know, your business. The storytelling, the characterisation, the ambiance are exceptional and reminiscent of another of my favourite authors, Fannie Flagg. It’s a coming of age story, a story about family ties, secrets and lies and how they come back to haunt you.
This is Annie Barrow flying solo and I think most readers will be very pleasantly surprised by the experience.