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Seattle and/or Bust

Jim Lynch's Truth Like the Sun: A Great (Regional) American Novel

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WHITE AMERICANS delight in blaming their quick-to-burn skin on their Swedish heritage, or proclaiming their Scottish allegiance via a Celtic knot bumper sticker—but when it comes to the forces that really influence our lives, the more salient cultural fact is that your parents and grandparents are from Lansing. Our patchwork country doesn't need a Great American novel; it needs 1,000 great regional novels, documenting the cultural microcosms within our ridiculously outsized borders. With Truth Like the Sun, Jim Lynch has written one of them.

Truth is concerned with two pivotal periods in Seattle's history: The World's Fair in 1962, and the dotcom bubble that burst in 2000. Between these two real-world anchors, Lynch strings the tale of the fictional civic booster Roger Morgan, credited with bringing the World's Fair to fruition, and of a young reporter, Helen Gulanos, who begins investigating Morgan in 2001, when, at age 70, he unexpectedly decides to run for mayor.

In Lynch's telling, Seattle in 1962 is a town desperate to wear big-kid pants, straining to shed a reputation for provincialism and to embody instead a new age of technology-driven progress—where tomorrow is better, where the high-tech planes built at Boeing make the George Jetson dream of a 15-minute workday seem not so improbable after all. But there's an edge of mania to this optimism about technology; the Cuban Missile Crisis is just around the corner.

Fast forward to 2001, where Helen Gulanos is a hungry young reporter looking for the story that'll make her career. She thinks she's found it in a planned series about the rise and fall of a start-up website, from which she plans to consider the dotcom era's boom and bust—but she soon stumbles on the bigger story of Morgan's mayoral candidacy, and devotes herself to unearthing the secrets that this life-long force in Seattle politics (he's known as "Mr. Seattle") must certainly have.

Lynch populates 1962 Seattle with celebrity cameos, seedy backroom gambling, and plenty of champagne and cigarettes—but these fun, old-timey notes are balanced with a pointed throughline examining how the complexities of Morgan's life and personality are flattened to suit the needs of a newspaper story. The real subject of Lynch's excellent novel, though, is Seattle itself: Reaching toward the future in 1962, and reeling from it, in 2001.

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