Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book: Truth Like The Sun, by Jim Lynch (2012)

In 1962, Roger Morgan is the boy wonder restaurateur spearheading the Seattle World’s Fair known as the Century 21 Exhibition, the event that gave rise to the Space Needle. In 2001, Roger decides to cash in on the decades of good will he’s built up as the city’s primary booster by launching a surprise campaign for mayor. In 1962, he tries to comprehend and contain municipal corruption that threatens to tarnish the Fair’s image. In 2001, he strains to convince himself and the electorate that he has no skeletons in his closet. In ’62, he has only his own demons for company. In the new millennium, he’s dogged by an ambitious but not unsympathetic reporter.

This fleet, engaging book by Jim Lynch paints a vivid portrait of Seattle in two eras, beautifully nailing the things that change – and the things that don’t. The sequences at the Fair are filled with cameos from the likes of LBJ and Elvis (who shot a movie at the Expo), and detail the grinding toll on an individual and a community of having to put on a happy face every single day. The chapters set after the dot-com boom illustrate the ways Seattle both fulfilled and fell short of the Fair’s vision of tomorrow. Lynch adroitly sketches Morgan’s insurgent campaign and gives him a worthy foil in Helen Gulanos, the journalist and Seattle newcomer who doesn’t buy into the city’s myths but sees Morgan as a good if compromised man. (Adding to the book’s wistful tone: the fact that Helen’s newspaper, the Post-Intelligencer, is essentially no more.)

Truth Like The Sun is steeped in Seattle history, but it’s also the story of any city struggling to define itself. I’m tempted to call it an upbeat version of The Wire or a West Coast Bonfire of the Vanities, but I know Seattle chafes at being compared to other places. And Lynch has succeeded on his own terms, writing a terrific novel of urban life.