Truth Like the Sun

Writer Jim Lynch skillfully crafts parallel stories to create a relentless novel.

Truth Like the Sun By Jim Lynch Knopf Doubleday 272 pp.

In Jim Lynch's propulsive new novel, Truth Like the Sun, the crimes are in the past, but the mystery surrounding them seeps through to the present, where glory-day memories conceal grubby secrets. "There was a time," the main character recalls, "when all of us together in a room could constitute a revolution…. Hell, in the day, six of us could meet for a drink and change the course of history." This is Roger Morgan, now 70, who became a Seattle legend by masterminding the city's World's Fair in 1962, a giddy year when Seattle's priapic optimism found perfect expression in the construction of the fanciful Space Needle.

Almost 40 years later, addressing a group of geriatric admirers, Morgan announces that he is running for mayor. Suddenly a routine assignment for reporter Helen Gulanos – to write an anniversary feature on the fair – turns into a news story. Morgan is running and Gulanos, an instinctive muckraker, begins to sift through the details of his legendary past. "She's the perfect age," Morgan's longtime aide tells him. "Old enough to know how to make you look like hell, young enough to think she's justified."  

In chapters that alternate between 1962 and 2001, Lynch ratchets up the tension as Helen digs for dirt and we enter the riptide of 1960s boomtown Seattle.

"Nimbly bouncing from person to person," he writes of the young Morgan, "he recalls his father working crowds like this, rolling up his sleeves and pointing at you, his thumb cocked, as if toasting or shooting you, engaging everyone without committing to anyone." Morgan's absent father is exactly this: part memory, part myth. And even as young Morgan surfs waves of adulation – showing off his city to President Johnson, Count Basie, Elvis Presley – he is constantly scanning the horizon for the missing man. Who turns out, of course, to be a cheaper version of the imagined idol. "Skinny and shrunken, shabby and balding, round-faced and groveling.... He snapped his fingers and cracked the same grin Roger had seen in the mirror too many times."  

Helen Gulanos, too, has Morgan's father in her sights, along with other criminals and grifters of the era. There is the developer who in 1962 seemed to have an uncanny sense of where a new highway would be built; the cops who are paid off by bar, club, and brothel owners; the politicians who become conveniently myopic once a shady deal is underway. When Morgan, at the height of his power, is told that a state senator is launching a corruption investigation, he "suddenly thinks that he knows more than he should, which is that the US attorney and a few honest cops are in a race to see who can expose this city first."

The poetic intensity of Lynch's descriptions ("a cruise ship peeled away from the waterfront like an entire city block calving into the bay") perfectly balances the restless, relentless pace of a novel that never loosens its grip. And Lynch expertly choreographs his parallel stories, allowing Morgan's fragile resurrection and Helen's grim crusade finally to converge with grace if not grandeur.

Anna Lundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

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