Robb Forman Dew has produced the second installment of a planned multigenerational trilogy featuring a charismatic family whose manufacturing...

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“The Truth of the Matter”
by Robb Forman Dew
Little, Brown, 336 pp., $24.95

Robb Forman Dew has produced the second installment of a planned multigenerational trilogy featuring a charismatic family whose manufacturing business serves as the mainstay for the town of Washburn, Ohio.

“The Truth of the Matter” carries on some years after “The Evidence Against Her” left off. In the first book, Agnes Claytor Scofield is the outsider who marries into the remarkably close-knit Scofield family. But at the beginning of this book, she has adjusted to life as a widow: Her husband, Robert, died in a car accident more than a decade earlier. With the extended family’s support, she has raised her three children, as well as her much younger brother, to adulthood.

By Chapter 2 they are all off to fight in World War II or to attend college, and she gradually reshapes her life to accommodate her own interests — in some cases, discovering what those are for the first time. The sorrow of having an empty nest pales in comparison to her earlier grief (which was accompanied by a vague, unsettling guilt) upon losing her husband.

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But when the war comes to an end, all of Agnes’ children eventually gravitate back to Ohio. This calls for another readjustment: Agnes discovers that she is no longer essential to her children. Caught up in living their own lives, at any given moment they might regard her with irritation or amusement as easily as with devotion.

Dew, who won the National Book Award for an earlier book (“Dale Loves Sophie to Death”) re-creates the midcentury Midwest with graceful and well-considered detail. But even more impressive is her precisely shaded portrait of one middle-age woman’s heart, which burns with incandescent passion yet somehow remains primly invisible to the people who think they know her best.