This novel is an excellent choice for book clubs because it covers many important and timely concerns.
Maggie Smith tackles contemporary topics as the lives of three women intersect in Truth and Other Lies. The story is told from the point of view of Megan Barnes, a young, ambitious, and spirited woman who wears her idealism on her sleeve. She is an up-and-coming investigative reporter determined to make a difference in the world.
As a twenty-something, Megan’s relationship with her mother is typically distant and complicated. She struggles for independence as she separates her identity from that of her mother. While she searches for a job in her hometown of Chicago, she learns that her mother has decided to run for political office. The two butt heads politically. Helen, Megan’s mother, is a pro-life conservative while Megan attends pro-choice rallies and supports other liberal causes. As the two women move forward with their respective careers, they do their best not to hinder one another. Megan, for example, learns quickly that she must temporarily forgo her ambition of working as a journalist until Helen’s campaign runs its course.
Instead, Megan accepts a job assisting with a public relations campaign for Joycelyn Jones, an accomplished and famous journalist whom Megan admires. Joycelyn has written a memoir and it is Megan’s task to promote the book. When a Twitter troll accuses Joyce of having plagiarized her Pulitzer-winning story about prison camps in Bosnia, Megan uses her investigative skills to seek the truth.
While the mentorship between Joycelyn and Megan is certainly important, it is the mother-daughter relationship between Helen and Megan that resonates and matters the most in the end. Helen expresses a mother’s love so well when she says, “You were a book I’d read so many times, I’d memorized every page.” She then goes on, “That’s a mother’s job, of course—preparing the person you love most in the world to leave you.” Her love and admiration for her daughter are genuine and the reader feels her bittersweet pride.
Megan uncovers not only secrets held by her mentor, but also her mother’s secrets. People aren’t always who they seem to be. We watch Megan grow and mature as she comes to terms with these truths.
Maggie Smith knows Chicago and its northern suburbs well and it shows. Her sense of place is strong as she guides us from Marshall Fields to the Palmer House to the campus of Northwestern University. It is clear she loves the city, as does Megan.
This is a worthy read that covers a myriad of themes. Maggie Smith is spot on with regard to the generation gap that exists between Baby Boomers and Millennials. (Megan accuses Baby Boomers of leaving “my generation to clean up the mess”—something I have heard from my own daughter!) She covers feminism and abortion with clarity and fairness. She touches on sexual harassment, war, trust, friendship and mother/daughter love. That’s a lot. But she does it well, and this story makes for a good starter point for deep conversation about all these topics.