True Story by Kate Reed Petty: Truth is in the eye of the beholder

Cover image for True Story by Kate Reed Petty Kate Reed Petty’s debut was the subject of a great deal of pre-publication brouhaha in my neck of the Twitter woods, including four different covers for advance reviewer copies, all of which appear on the published edition. I landed the dark one featuring a cabin in the woods setting me up for something rather sinister. Rebecca at Bookish Beck was sent the prom queen version and I wondered if each of us had approached the novel differently as a result. True Story’s structure echoes that clever marketing strategy, telling the story of Alice, left with no memory of what happened to her the night she passed out in the back of a car driven by two boys taking her home from a party.

In 2014, Alice is living in Barcelona working as a ghostwriter for a rich man in his thirties when she’s contacted by her old friend Haley. When they were thirteen, Alice and Hayley wrote film scripts, sharing a love of horror movies. Hayley is now a filmmaker, eager to make a movie of Alice’s version of the events she heard boasted about at Denny’s by Max, the school’s bad boy, and Richard, endlessly teased about his sexual shyness. It’s a story of assault, one that has overshadowed Alice’s life, making her easy prey for the controlling ‘Q’ from whom she fled to Barcelona. Rumour and uncertainty about what happened that night have dogged Alice, undermining her confidence and making her constantly question herself. Nick was also present at Denny’s, listening to Max’s graphic descriptions of what was done to Alice. One of the school’s lacrosse stars, he was afforded the kind of latitude that set him up for a life of alcoholism and dead end jobs. The day after the party the rumour mill kicked into action, further fuelling Alice’s distress with its outrage. Fifteen years later, Hayley is determined that she and Alice will expose the truth to the world but Hayley’s version may not be the same as Alice’s.

Petty’s novel explores themes of truth and its interpretation, memory and culpability with the pace of a thriller. Much of the story is told through Nick who has the makings of a decent man but falls victim to his lacrosse star status and the indulgence it brings. Woven through Nick’s account is Alice’s story told through college applications, film scripts and episodes from a life overshadowed by the uncertainty of what happened that night. Nick’s sections are particularly well done – the ever-present teenage fear of humiliation, the bad behaviour countenanced by adults, the descent into alcoholism and paranoia. Jock culture is uncomfortably portrayed, from hazing to attitudes towards women. This is a cleverly constructed novel although as this is a spoiler-free zone I won’t be revealing just how clever, suffice to say that something which had me thinking that’s a step too far was neatly explained towards its satisfying end. A smart piece of fiction whose ambition pays off leaving me keen to see what Petty comes up with next.

Riverrun: London 9781787478442 400 pages Hardback

24 thoughts on “True Story by Kate Reed Petty: Truth is in the eye of the beholder”

    1. I agree and always feel that a jacket that doesn’t reflect the book does both writer and readers a disservice. I’be interested to hear from other reviewers to see if my theory’s correct with this one. I was surprised to find that finished copies feature all four versions.

  1. I was ignoring the buzz around this until Megan Abbott gave it a stunning review. Planning to read it at the weekend – I’m tearing through crime and thriller novels at the moment.

  2. An interesting marketing strategy! Now I’m curious to know if it did affect the expectations/experiences of the readers of each cover.

  3. This sounds like quite a tough read in many ways, but if you were punching the air at the end then I’m tempted! The marketing could easily have been gimmicky but it sounds an interesting approach – I’d certainly have very different expectations of the stories contained in those four covers.

    1. Yes, gimmicky is the word that came to my mind at first but having read the book it seems apt although I don’t much like the final jacket. Not an easy read but certainly a perceptive one.

  4. This sounds like a interesting novel, though perhaps a tough read too. I can’t get over the different covers, they each present the novel so completely differently.

    1. It’s a clever way of illustrating the way that the novel explores different versions of the truth although I’m not sure how clear that is if you haven’t read it. Definitely a tough read at times but Petty handles her themes sensitively.

  5. I have an e-book ARC of this, so it didn’t come with a cover, but an interesting strategy by the publisher to have such different styles of cover – it really sets you up for a different reading experience, I reckon. If they were all lined up on a shelf, I would bypass the cabin in the woods cover (horror) and go for the pink diner (contemp lit).

  6. Oh, how interesting! I love that there are four such different covers. And I hope that’s another expression of the overall cleverness, forcing us to wonder how our very own “versions” of events (even as simple as reading a book) are influenced by her personal thinking about and experience of small details like a marketing decision. I’ve had this book on my hold list at the library since it was reviewed in the NYT but I’ve just been letting the holds peel away while my own is suspended. After your review, I might just un-suspend it, because I’m ITCHING to know the thing that you’ve mentioned in your final paragraph!

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