This is an odd book, and a compelling one. It was published in 1988, which I am reliably informed by industry insiders makes it ANCIENT.
But it remains one of my favorite return-to reads. It’s about an art historian named Polly Alter who is writing a biography of painter Lorin Jones. Alter wants Jones to be the victim of male injustice, handled badly by her art-critic husband, suppressed by the glass ceiling, etc. etc. But as she seeks out people who knew Jones, Alter finds more and more complicating factors that remind Alter and the reader that people are never simple, or easy to capture. Or even, sometimes, all that easy to love.
And that’s why I like this book so much – Alter’s trying to capture Lorin Jones, and Lurie is capturing Alter and the other characters (some of whom have appeared in other Lurie novels). I love the way Lurie writes characters; they talk differently from each other; they come from different moral perspectives; their agendas are complicated and shifting and don’t just serve as plot devices. Reading The Truth About Alison Lurie is like diving into a writing workshop about characterization and dialogue.
The ending of this book (no, I won’t put a spoiler in here) remains one of my all-time favorites. Stephen King said about writing that life is ambivalent, so why shouldn’t writing be. But the way Lurie handles ambivalence, with a bit of humor and a great deal of compassion, has stuck with me since high school (when I first read Truth).
It’s a good novel for curling up with on a winter’s day, and it’s a good intro to how Lurie writes. I admit to not liking her other books as well as this one (even her feminist fairy tale collections!) but that’s okay. If this was the only thing she’d ever written, it would have been legacy enough.