Friday, September 30, 2016

City of Truth by James Morrow

There is a city where everyone tells the truth, all of the time. They drive Ford Adequates, stop off at Booze Before Breakfast, and watch the Enduring Another Day program on TV. They have been conditioned to say only what is factually true at all times, on pain of their own sanity.

And one man needs to learn to lie if he wants to try to save his young son.

James Morrow never writes about small things, and his slim 1990 novella-as-book City of Truth is no exception -- it's the story of Jack Sperry, who works as a deconstructionist in the city of Veritas until his son Toby is bitten by a rabbit at Camp Ditch-the-Kids and comes down with an incurable illness.

(A deconstructionist, by the way, is someone who destroys lies -- sledgehammers sculptures to rubble and burns books page by page. Morrow, as always, follows his premises all the way to the end, and doesn't flinch from showing what they imply.)

Back in the Age of Lies, though, Jack knows there were miraculous cures through belief -- but Toby will not believe he can survive if people tell him the truth about his condition. So Jack has to spirit Toby away to the secret underground world of "dissemblers," the few Veritasians who have broken out of their conditioning to believe that pigs can fly, that money grows on trees, that dogs can talk. They can lie. And they can teach Jack to lie -- to lie to his son in the hopes that can keep Toby alive and make him one of few to beat Xavier's Plague.

Jack does find the dissemblers, and does join them, in his own way. But this is a James Morrow book, so I can't claim that it all ends happily. That would be a lie.

City of Truth is a quick read, and a bracing one, from Morrow's early angry period. It's a great introduction to his work, particularly for those who don't want to dive right into the anti-God books.

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