Jennie is a good person. Really. She tries so very hard to be a godly woman, loving mother, attractive wife, attentive neighbor and dutiful sister, stepmother, daughter, and aunt. The problem is that everyone keeps getting in the way of her success. If it weren’t for circumstances and, well, people, she could be just about perfect. Echoed by the fall of the Twin Towers, her world comes crashing down as she tries to make sense of her projections and preconceptions. Sadly, heroic action does not always follow good intentions.
At 61,000 words, The Truth is Hard to Tell is set in Charleston, SC, in September of 2001. Within the matryoshka structure are the interrelated stories of eight characters that together form one complete narrative. This is slightly dark, upmarket adult fiction with book club potential.
New York Times bestselling author Lee Smith (Dimestore; The Last Girls) has this to say:
“Virtuoso writing and apocalyptic vision characterize
Ashley Atkins’s utterly original and fascinating novel.
Brilliant writing marks this serious look
at contemporary America.”
(FELL) JENNIE SMITH WALTERS is a good person. Really. She tries so very hard to be a godly woman, loving mother, attractive wife, attentive neighbor and dutiful sister, stepmother, daughter, and aunt. The problem is that everyone keeps getting in the way of her success. If it weren’t for circumstances and, well, people, she could be just about perfect. Her overarching narrative provides context for the other stories, and, echoed by the fall of the Twin Towers, her world comes crashing down as she tries to make sense of her projections and preconceptions. Sadly, heroic action does not always follow good intentions.
(A VIRTUOUS WOMAN) Jennie’s best friend ELIZABETH JARETT ROBBINS surprised herself by marrying an evangelical Christian and pastoral counselor and embracing a submissive female role within her safe, upper-middle class, prosperity gospel-inspired existence. A paradigm of feminine virtuousness, she reaches a breaking point and makes a plan to run away from home. Distracted by thoughts of what she is about to do, she leaves her sleeping children in the car on a warm day.
(CAT MAN) Jennie’s nephew, JARED LANDERS, is sixteen. He is dyed, pierced, disillusioned and generally pissed off at the world. When his father suspects him of dealing drugs, he kicks Jared out of the house and makes it clear he is not to return. Sensitive and already bewildered by life, he is pushed over the edge by homelessness. As he gradually loses his grip on reality, Jared assumes a new persona: Cat Man.
(WHAT WAS YELLOW) Jennie’s grandfather-in-law ELI DOBSON has buried his wife and is living alone on their now-defunct tobacco farm, upstate, in the house where he grew up. The woman who looks after him is bed-ridden after surgery, and her daughter stops by on Eli’s 85th birthday to check on him. She inadvertently gets his hopes up that his daughters and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be making the two-hour drive to come celebrate his birthday with him.
(PREY) Jennie’s nephew, AVERY SMITH-GARRISON, is in the sixth grade, the only child of preoccupied parents. The family spends much of their time behind separate closed doors, and they largely communicate via public chat rooms. Targeted by an Internet predator, he manages to get his parents’ permission to go on a road trip with an unsavory stranger under the pretext of attending an exotic pet show.
(CASTLES ARE MADE OF SAND) Jennie’s husband’s first wife MELANIE WALTERS is devoted to her son. Matthew, 7, has leukemia, and Melanie has been consumed with managing his treatment. When she is told that her son is out of remission and ineligible for a bone marrow transplant, she decides to take his end of life into her own hands. Escape is her answer. She quits her job, leaves her apartment, and takes him on a road trip to see a real castle.
(THE INTERACT) Jennie’s niece KINSEY WALTERS is a senior in high school. She has never known her mother, but she has a happy, if unconventional, life with her dad. She is looking forward to college and her future, but an evening of underground “reality theater” reminiscent of a suicide-snuff film causes her to relive random moments from her childhood.
(SELF-DEFENSE) Jennie’s neighbor, JOHN ANDERSON, is a control freak. From his Hummer to his workout routine to his house, he has no room for unpleasant surprises in his life. Except that his abusive wife is manipulating him—and just about everyone they know—in an elaborate set-up for a divorce that will give her everything.
Read a sample here.