Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes
Where The Truth Lies was one of those movies where I didn’t realize it was based on a novel until the title card came up in the film’s credits—I just wanted to watch it because This Film Is Not Yet Rated promised me that there would be some level of dudes making out. (A promise which was broken. Although it does sport an NC-17 rating for the sheer fact a woman appears to be enjoying herself too much during sex, so, you know, there’s some progress being made.) But while I didn’t enjoy the film, the story stayed with me, so eventually I just had to pick up the novel just to get out of my system, which resulted in spending three hours utterly absorbed in it while I should have been studying for midterms. Lord preserve the second semester college senior.
Where the Truth Lies is the story of K. O’Connor, a young but talented journalist in the 1970s. O’Connor has big plans for her first book: interview Vince Collins (one half of the legendary and now defunct 1950s comedy duo Vince Collins and Lanny Morris) and get the whole story—including the Girl from New Jersey, a girl found dead in in Morris and Collins’ hotel room after a marathon polio telethon. While Morris and Collins have had airtight alibis, O’Connor is determined to get to the bottom of it, even if she has to compromise her morals to do so. But is the truth worth that much?
I’m a very visual person—that’s why I feel I can’t properly review audiobooks, because I can’t devote the same attention to them as I do to text. It’s also the reason why I try to read a book before I see its film adaptation. It’s not because I think the book will be better (I have no patience for arguments that claim the book is always better than the film; did you see The Hunger Games? C’mon), but because the film will cast a particularly long shadow on my reading. Which was the case with Where The Truth Lies. Collins and Morris are quite clearly based on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (Morris even pulls a “fine ladies” bit at one point), but I could only see them as Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. On the one hand, this pays tribute to the fact that those actors were wonderful choices for the parts; on the other hand, Vince Collins isn’t British. But there was one silver lining—I could pick and choose what worked from the film to incorporate into my reading of the novel, allowing me to ditch the haphazard execution of the story’s protagonist, O’Connor.
It’s only after reading the novel that I realize what a disservice the film did to her. Alison Lohman’s O’Connor is gentle, sweet, and faintly tragic, being given a polio backstory to make her relationship with the duo even more painful. The actual O’Connor is bold, brassy, messed up, and funny. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of Sex and the City, but the O’Connor in my head was very Sarah Jessica Parker; confident and self-effacing, but with a harder edge that Parker lacks. The book opens with a note from the older O’Connor explaining why she’s chosen to publish a manuscript from the seventies now (well, in 2003) and apologizing for the florid tone that plagued her early writing. It not only lends the book an air of authenticity, but also gives us O’Connor as a whole human being, who’ll do anything to expose the truth—even if it means making herself look bad. In fact, much of the novel is about O’Connor learning exactly what lengths she’ll go for a story, and the final chapter kind of breaks my heart in that regard. And I love that she, subtly shown to be a huge fan of Collins and Morris, has picked up Morris’ sense of humor; this is, in a small way, a novel about a fan, and it’s rare to see someone like that presented so brilliantly and vividly.
And the tension—oh my. Even having seen the film and knowing the big, shocking secret, I was still gasping and cursing at certain twists and turns, all of which feel organic. Holmes (and, thus, O’Connor) knows how to end a chapter without having it be an obvious cliffhanger, and it’s nice to see someone handle a mystery and/or thriller so deftly and lightly. That said, I’m still not sure how to take the sexuality of the book. Because O’Connor is rendered so deftly, her own sexual history feels very much hers—it feels like she has agency. But the novel is also happy to have her use her body to get what she wants; not an unrealistic representation, of course, but the constant reliance on this starts to strain believability. And when she gets involved with both Collins and Morris, culminating in a plot-relevant threesome which she bears through for her partner, I felt disconnected from the character as it began to feel less like the character I knew and more like an automaton going through the motions. It’s still O’Connor’s shining, vivid voice, through and through, but the membrane between the story’s reality and the whims of the author seems stretched particularly thin in a few spots. There’s always something, isn’t there?
Bottom line: Far superior to its film adaptation, Where The Truth Lies gives us a bold, brassy, messed up, and funny protagonist in K. O’Connor, as well as a tightly plotted and deliciously tense mystery. The novel’s sexual content sometimes seems to be going on autopilot, however, disconnecting the reader from O’Connor. Still worth a shot, though.
I rented this book from the public library.