Olympia novelist Jim Lynch's new book "Truth Like the Sun" is set in the brash Seattle of the 1962 World's Fair and the chastened 2001 Seattle of the post-dot-com bust. Lynch reads at several area locations this month.
‘Truth Like the Sun’
by Jim Lynch
Knopf, 255 pp., $25.95
Jim Lynch’s addictive new novel is a tale of two cities, both of them Seattle — the brash 1962 home of the World’s Fair, and the chastened 2001 edition, still in shock from the dot-com boom and bust. Told in chapters that alternate between the two eras, its prose reflects the two moods: 1962 sparkles like an old-time midway, crammed with celebrity cameos, souvenir Champagne glasses and fast-talking men in hats; 2001 feels reflective and a little world-weary, a city once bitten and now twice shy.
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Connecting the two eras is one (fictitious) character: Roger Morgan, the glad-handing young dreamer who masterminded the World’s Fair — and, nearly 40 years later, decides to run for mayor of the city. (Placards waved by student supporters read “Vote for the Old Guy!”) Helen Gulanos, a new-in-town reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is working on an obligatory 40-years-since-the-World’s-Fair story, and soon finds herself investigating Morgan’s colorful past.
This is the third novel from Lynch, a former Seattle Times reporter; his last, 2009’s “Border Songs” was the tale of a dyslexic Border Patrol agent in charge of a 30-mile stretch of southern British Columbia/north Washington.
In contrast, “Truth Like the Sun” is an urban novel; the book, particularly the 1962 sections, feels agreeably crowded with people and noise and fleeting impressions, like Pike Place Market on a sunny Saturday.
Celebrities who visit the Fair are given their moments, as faces in the crowd — Elvis, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Theodore Roethke, Prince Philip (“all wit and manners,” and then still dashing enough to leave swooning women in his wake), a “hunched and neckless” Ed Sullivan, a flatulent LBJ — and a subplot involving police corruption is based on true stories from the era. (Characters in the more contemporary section of the book are mostly fictional, but watch for an homage to Edith Macefield, the elderly Ballard woman who famously refused to sell her house to developers.)
Helen, a jaded journalist not quite ready to join the chorus of love for livable, literary Seattle (the city, she notes, “reminded her of men she’d known who’d been told too many times how handsome they were”) remains at arm’s length throughout.
Lynch doesn’t quite succeed in making us engaged with her, though he’s clearly having fun depicting newsroom politics and editors who’ve been “snipping color and humor and emotion out of stories for so long, they had inadvertently started pruning their personalities as well.”
But Roger, both young and old, takes hold of the book from its opening pages, when he gives a speech — at the newly opened Space Needle — on the eve of the Fair’s opening. “Let’s commit this moment to memory, OK?” he says, lit up with success, trying not to think of its eventual price. “Look around. Remember what our city looked like on this night from up here. Remember how young we all were.”
In 2001, he’s an old man with a musty apartment, soaking his weary-from-doorbelling ankle and hip in the tub while drinking a can of Rainier. Coasting, often charmingly, on his long-ago fame and his identification as “Mr. Seattle,” he cheerfully spouts statistics about the speed of the Needle’s elevator and watches as his city becomes — like himself — something he doesn’t always recognize.
“Life is a challenging and often inexplicable odyssey,” he tells a reporter, late in the book, “that doesn’t translate easily into newspaper stories.”
Moira Macdonald is the movie critic
for The Seattle Times.