Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Fiction Review: True Enough

Last year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to not only review Stephen McCauley's latest novel, My Ex-Life (which was wonderful - review at the link) but also to interview the author for Shelf Awareness and then meet him in person at Booktopia, an annual weekend book event, and even sit with him at dinner. McCauley is a smart, witty writer (and in person, too), and I thoroughly enjoyed both the interview and my time with him at Booktopia. I recently read a novel from his backlist, True Enough, and found it has that same combination of insight and humor that I loved so much in My Ex-Life.

Jane Cody is forty years old, married to her second husband, mother to a 6-year old son, a TV producer for a local Boston PBS station, and...restless. Her husband is kind and caring (as opposed to her self-absorbed, cheating first husband), so why doesn't she feel as happy as she should be? Her precocious son is brilliant but a bit cool, though he is an excellent baker, and her critical mother-in-law lives in their carriage house. Jane likes to keep lists to try to keep her life organized, but many of the items on the lists are lies, like her son's therapy appointments listed as gymnastics and her own therapy listed as facials.
"It was a simple system that caused her problems only when she confused the code and started missing dental appointments and showing up at restaurants for imaginary lunches, both of which had happened in the past three weeks."
In New York City, Desmond is also fortyish, happily partnered up with Russell for five years, and similarly feeling dissatisfied. He's struggling to wrap up his biography of Pauline Anderton, a little-known, only mildly talented singer from the 60's, but feels he's missing something to pull the story together. Desmond accepts a teaching job for one semester at a Boston college, thinking the time away will be good for him and for his book. Since Desmond's new job puts him in the same department as Jane's husband, the two soon meet and decide to produce a series of biographical documentaries for Jane's station, beginning with one on Pauline. Now, they are both searching for something to unlock Pauline's life...and to bring  excitement and satisfaction back to their own lives.

As with My Ex-Life, Stephen's true talent lies in his ability to write sentences that stop you in your tracks, mixing insights into human nature with a clever wit. I am often surprised by the way he says something and find myself laughing out loud while reading his novels. Here's an example of his sense of humor, which is woven throughout the story:
"Earlier in the summer when he and Russell were in a Wal-Mart in New Jersey looking for an air conditioner, someone had stopped him and said: "Excuse me, do you work here?" a comment that continued to echo in his brain like a reproach for his lack of physical grace and intellectual authority."
And here's a simple line showing Stephen's uncanny grasp on human nature: "Maybe, Desmond, thought, true love was an acute form of tolerance."

Most often, though, his wit and wisdom go hand-in-hand, as here:
"Everyone claimed they were too "intense," an amorphous term that usually indicated an obsessive-compulsive disorder they were trying to pass off as a surfeit of intelligence."
This astute and funny writing style makes True Enough a lot of fun to read, while also providing plenty of insight into modern relationships. As Jane and Desmond get to know each other and dig deeper into Pauline's life story, they begin to uncover their own secrets, lies, and true desires. I was happy to go along for the ride.

314 pages, Washington Square Press

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

You can purchase True Enough from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order True Enough from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I like a funny book and it feels like they are so difficult to find.

    1. Anything by Stephen McCauley fits the bill, Helen!