The Truth of Who You Are
By Sheila Myers
Impressive themes live long after the book.
It’s a starkly honest start – this story begins with an obituary reporter in a newspaper office looking out a window. He thinks about his doctor’s pronouncement that he will die soon. He witnesses the furtive movements of an abused wife and then her intrepid abuser. Each of these notes swirl into a mix of introspection. He’s had the role of writing about others’ lives after death, smoothing over uncomfortable secrets, and now knows that his will end. Will his life reveal the hundreds—hundreds of thousands—of small untruths he’s told throughout his own life? The choices and inevitable regrets? Author Sheila Myers covers impressive terrain while exploring these themes.
The narrator, Ben Taylor, begins his story as an uncomplicated big brother, entering young manhood in the hills of the Smoky Mountains in the 1920’s, His upbringing has been a simple life of living off the land, where the undulating hills and forests of old and new growth trees are deeply familiar. But as he comes of age, while a part of him is tied to his family life, another part is drawn to the curious changes coming to their mountain by logging companies and the wealth it rewards its workers. It’s an age-old conflict of preserving the old against the destruction of inevitable progress that Ben will witness again and again throughout his life. His story takes us into the Great Depression, inside the Civilian Conservation Corps across the ocean to the Battle of the Bulge and into the 1950’s and more. Stepping back, it’s an impressive sweep of history; yet, Myers makes it all personal by keeping the story close to Ben. An emotionally scarred neighbor, Finn, reflects the haunting horror of WWI’s trench warfare. A botanist-inspired sister, Mary, mirrors women forging into new career territories. No one can stay untouched by the times they live in—even in the back hills of an old forest.
And as for Truth, Myers forces Ben to grapple with it by becoming a writer. He’s asked to embellish CCC’s accomplishments to help it curry political favor. He’s called upon to fabricate heroic stories of fallen soldiers to their next-of-kin in WWII. Each of these incidents and more leaves him in that newspaper office at the end of the book with insistent questions about how his own life should be reviewed. What was the truth? Was it all worth it? I found Myer’s insistent examination stayed with me long after I finished the book.