After a college party, two boys drive a girl home: drunk and passed out in the back seat. Rumours spread about what they did to her, but later they’ll tell the police a different version of events. Alice will never remember what truly happened. Her fracture runs deep, hidden beneath cleverness and wry humour. Nick – a sensitive, misguided boy who stood by – will never forget.
That’s just the beginning of this extraordinary journey into memory, fear, and self-portrayal. Through university applications, a terrifying abusive relationship, a fateful reckoning with addiction and a final mind-bending twist, Alice and Nick will take on different roles to each other – some real, some invented – until finally, brought face to face once again, the secret of that night is revealed.
True Story begins with a party and two guys – Max and Richard – giving Alice a lift home. She passes out in the back seat and will later have no recollection of the journey. What happens? Well, initially it would seem that the two boys took advantage of her and the rumours begin to fly as Max in particular brags about what he was able to do to Alice in the backseat of the car. The police soon become involved, and their story changes dramatically to one of “doing the right thing” and helping an inebriated young woman to get home safely and nothing more. With little to go on beyond hearsay, the police soon drop the case, and the Alice, Max, and Richard are left to get on with their lives.
The reader doesn’t find out the truth about that night until the end of the novel, but whichever version of events is true, Alice is a victim and the one who is most affected by that night. While Max and Richard are able to continue with their lives, that evening and the police investigation little more than a blip in their history – something to regret as the years pass by, perhaps – for Alice it is a defining moment in her life, and she struggles with her mental health as a result of that evening, unable to complete school via the traditional route. The injustice of this left me fuming as she is ostracised and bullied in the days and weeks following the party despite having done nothing wrong. I think that the author successfully highlights the victim-blaming that can often occur in such a situation, and particularly the view of those who don’t seem to understand that having had a drink too many and not being able to say no does not constitute consent.
They wanted to punish us for her drinking too much, for her being easy?
I’m UK based, and I think that school sports teams don’t mean quite the same thing here as they do in the US. That said, the individuals of the lacrosse team that Max and Richard belong to were spot on as far as I’m concerned. The bravado, the hazing of new team members, and the pressure to be “one of the guys” rang true, as did the camaraderie of the teammates who pull together as the allegations start to fly. One of the perspectives that the author keeps coming back to is that of Nick – another member of the lacrosse team, and friend of both guys involved. It’s Nick who ultimately helps to suppress the rumour, turning it into something less inflammatory, although not without cost. It was fascinating to see his development – or lack thereof – as he begins as a successful young athlete with plenty of opportunities available to him but who ultimately fails to live up to that early potential.
True Story uses a variety of styles in its telling, and I loved the way in which the seemingly disparate parts come together to form one brilliantly original novel. Through various character points of view to films scripts and Alice’s college application essay, the reader is able to build up a comprehensive view of those involved – directly and tangentially – and to see the impact of that night in the years following the party. The multiple perspectives and styles also allow the author to play with genre and the reader’s expectations as to what this novel is, and I love the way that this has been called out in the cover design, with the campus novel, thriller / noir, horror, and the elements of a memoir beautifully called out.
True Story is a shocking and powerful novel that explores the relationship between victims and their aggressors. It made me angry and sad at the treatment of victims from all sides – the injustice of it is infuriating. True Story is an incredible debut, and while the topic isn’t the most comfortable to read about it is handled sensitively throughout. True Story is a gripping novel that I highly recommend.
True Story will be published on 4 August by Riverrun. Many thanks to the publisher and to Katya Ellis for the opportunity to read and review this novel ahead of publication.