TRUTH LIKE THE SUN
Alfred A. Knopf, 272 pp.
Jim Lynch, a long-serving journalist for several Pacific Northwest newspapers, is one sharp knife. His first two novels, The Highest Tide and Border Songs, demonstrated accelerated, entertaining intelligence on various obscure topics — marine biology, veterinary science, agribusiness. Lynch’s third novel, Truth Like the Sun, ambitiously tackles new ground: Seattle power politics, big business and big city journalism.
Its protagonist, Roger Morgan — a fictional portrait of Eddie Carlson, chairman of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (who, urban legend has it, sketched an early design of the Space Needle on a cocktail napkin) — runs for Mayor during the 2001 Seattle municipal elections by championing his past World’s Fair accomplishments. Helen Gulanos, a poison-pen journalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, shadows Morgan every step of the way.
Notably, Knopf published Truth Like the Sun just after the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Space Needle on April 21, 2012.
While novelists typically do not write on subjects to coincide with real time events, Lynch is an exception — previous to this timely offering, Knopf released his second novel, Border Songs — which delved into the Canada-U.S. border issues brought about by the acceleration of “B.C. Bud” smuggling — months before the opening of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Lynch’s decision to craft his novels based on current events alters the process by which he writes — like a corporate manager, he identifies those parts of his characters’ personalities which push his plot (ie. agenda) forward, and so his characters often exude less depth.
And so, Truth Like the Sun’s characters feel flat. Whether it’s a second-tier player such as Morgan’s mistress, Meredith Stein, a voluptuous local boosterette who runs the modern art pavilion at the World’s Fair, or his portrayals of the fair’s famous attendees like Ed Sullivan, LBJ, John Glenn and Elvis Presley, Lynch devotes little attention to them as three-dimensional, individual personalities.
On the plus side, Truth Like the Sun’s narrative moves fast and hard, its hot copy burning through the 20 lb white bond like a branding iron.
Still, when Gulanos unearths the fact that building contractors needed to execute one continuous pour of 467 consecutive truckloads of concrete to finish construction of the Space Needle for the opening of the World’s Fair, Lynch unconsciously expresses the purpose, the symbol and process of Truth Like the Sun — not journalism, not literature, but, in fact, “deadline.”
Lynch works at cross-purposes: he’s not focused on writing a great novel, instead wanting to write a novel that will promote Seattle, that will land a movie deal (to be filmed in Seattle...), and that will establish a Seattle literary tradition. And that constitutes a disservice — to Seattle, to literature and to Lynch himself.
Perhaps, given a grounded editor, Lynch can one day achieve those goals. But that book is in his future — it is not Truth Like the Sun.