Kate Reed Petty's True Story is one of the most impressive debut novels you'll ever read.
It is both a riveting page-turner and a narrative puzzle, twisting and turning in on itself, leaving the reader reeling and uncertain. This book is very smart and very compelling. It is also very difficult to write about without spoiling! But don't worry, I hate when reviewers reveal too much, and always do my utmost to avoid that.
Begin with an incident. A sexual assault. Think Chanel Miller, who was assaulted by Brock Turner, a Stanford University athlete, while she was unconscious. Think Glen Ridge.
Add genre references and tropes -- horror, noir, suspense, crime thriller, memoir. Horror and crime movies are especially present. Petty uses these tropes in unexpected ways, to highlight sexism and misogyny, attitudes and stereotypes. I would say Petty gives a feminist reading of the horror and crime genres, but that sounds dry and academic -- and True Story is anything but.
Petty also uses the genre tropes to re-create the fractured memory and dislocation caused by trauma, the way trauma survivors must shape their own scraps of memory into a story, and how people co-opt the stories of others, shaping them into a more easily digestable narrative.
What really happened that night? That clichéd question reverberates through the book, as the stories within stories unfold. Other elements -- more than one unreliable narrator, a ghostwriter, rampant rumour and speculation -- create a story about storytelling.
True Story is the kind of suspense novel I'm always looking for: a great read, but with something deeper, something more substantial.
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