The Keepers of Truth (Anglais) Broché – 29 octobre 2001
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Our story is narrated by Bill, the newspaper�s writer � a modern day philosopher who is relegated by necessity to write the dribble of small town papers (obits, lion�s club meetings, local ball team reports). Himself a somewhat tragic figure, he is suddenly given new life when an old man people hated goes missing and his son is suspected of the crime. The police can�t find enough to pin the murder on Ronny (the son) but the pursuit of clues engages the whole town. Bill finds himself in the confidences of Ronny�s ex-fiancée, and finds he begins to learn more about what might have really happened.
What makes this novel such a powerful one is not the story itself, but the setting in which the story occurs. The town, once a center of industry is now half-dead, full of white trash, strip malls, and too many alcoholics. In the degeneration of this culture, violence, anger, and desperation have reared their ugly heads and the negative small town culture reigns (everyone knows or pretends to know everyone else�s private business).
I found this not just an interesting murder mystery but also a sociological perspective on the cultural death of America. A country that is becoming more desperate, more shallow, less feeling, and less kind with every gun license, every hate crime, and every desperate act by a people who have lost themselves
But I have to say despite my reservations, this book blew me away. It was like the best blend of both non-fiction and fiction I've ever read. I lived through the late seventies in the midwest, and my father lost his job due to the economic downturn. I like to put that period of my family life out of my mind, but this book brought that time and feeling back to me. Maybe it was personal impact that made this book have its effect on me, but I found myself re-reading parts of it to my wife. I even called my father just to talk, just to ask him about what he felt back then. I didn't tell him why I was calling, though I've sent him the book.
I know this isn't probably a review, but it's what I felt, it's how this book affected me.
The major problem I had with this book was the time frame. The references are all over the map and at most points the story would appear to be set in the 70s; yet there are references forward in time that confuse the issue so that one is left wondering if there are anachronisms on the page or if one has misunderstood the time frame. Given the significance of Vietnam to the story, I had trouble determining just when the action was taking place.
That said, this is well worth reading--particularly Bill's fascination with Lucas, the child of Ronny Lawton's "estranged"--as she is referred to throughout the book--with whom Bill becomes involved, almost against his will. At the end, there is the hope that Bill will rescue little Lucas from a fate too similar to his own. And that is something remarkably uplifting in a book that is so very grim.
The first real sign of this is to do with what "The Keepers of Truth" is : it's a whodunnit. That's right, you heard me good. A whodunnit. Like Agatha Christie (or the ghost of Agatha Christie at any rate). A whodunnit played out against a backdrop of closed factories, abandoned warehouses and rusted-up cranes, populated by people with vacant stares, hollowed out and left puzzled by the fact that all of the skills they learned to get them through life no longer serve their purpose.
Old Man Lawton (a character as old as Steinbeck's dustbowl, as familiar as Huckleberry Finn) has upped and disappeared. The town points the finger at Ronny, Old Man Lawton's no-good son. Ronny and the old man were always fighting, they say. Seems perfectly natural one time it went too far. Ronny done gone chopped up his Pa. Only Pa is nowhere to be found. The police discover a severed finger but nobody ever died of a lost finger. Like everything else in the choked town, the investigation stalls before it starts.
Bill, the provincial newspaperman writing up the history of small defeats for the local rag (called "The Truth") in the days and weeks before head honcho Sam sells up and moves to Florida, is a subdued hero. While investigating the disappearance of Ronny's old man (in the dusty hiatus that acts as a transition between did-anybody-do-anything and whodunnit), Bill becomes implicated in the tiny lives and futile gestures of the bit-part players involved (Ronny Lawton, his estranged trailer-trash wife and kid, the local hairdresser, the jaded policeman). Bill is a closed circuit. Nothing surprises him. Everything confirms his ennui.
The disappearance of Old Man Lawton echoes throughout the book. Bill's grandfather, the refrigerator magnate, had himself frozen two generations back, round about the time all the major businesses folded. The town used to produce things. Now it is a cobweb of places to eat. So people eat, hoping the food will plug up the holes left by what has gone. Bill's father killed himself. Ronny's brother dies in Vietnam. There is an unnamed baby buried in the Lawton cellar.
It's a syndrome, all of this : the apotheosis of Joachism, a transition without end that comes to define our lives. Bill's attachment to the past - and America's relationship with the types of industry it all but abandoned - is a kind of ever-decreasing circle, a trap too subtle to escape.
By eulogising the past, you derogate the present and abnegate the future. Truth itself (newspaper truth) becomes old-fashioned. Bill writes but nobody reads. Sales figures dwindle. People don't want bald statements in print. Reading takes time. TV is easy. TV is bite-sized. "The Truth" has become out-moded. TV offers myth and consolation. A newspaper is static and static is fuzzy.
The keepers of truth turn out to be the people who look after that which has ceased to mean anything. The keepers of truth are weak historians fending off the battery of the present with rolled-up newspapers. Satchel Page, an old ballplayer, said "Never look back, somebody might be gaining on you". Bill finds this "sad, and yet defiant." Sad, perhaps, because you must know what you have been to understand what you are. Defiant because it embodies a pioneering spirit of looking to the future that was frozen for Bill two generations earlier.
It's hard really to describe this book more than to speak of its mood, of its profound ability to get at your psyche, but it does and for the few friends I've lent the book, they also feel its resonance, that it has a life after you finish it.
I think this book is destined to be read for years. It rings with such authenticity and raises so many questions on the predicament of humanity in the late and early 21st century, that it serves the launching pad for understanding where we are at this time in history. It does not provide the answers, but sometimes the questions need to be asked first...