True Story – Kate Reed Petty

by Bushra

Books that cut across genres are rare and unheard of. Most fall very neatly into a single genre which makes it easy to prepare the mind for what’s to come.

True Story is a multi-genre book that’ll have you on the edge of your seat till the very end. Not quite a thriller, although there are aspects of it, it speaks of a night of partying that ends in a possible sexual assault and the path it sets out for all those involved, namely Nick and Alice. The novel takes you through an American diner story and high school drama, moving onto American horror as well as psychological thriller, True Story is a lesson in what happens when rumours become reality, challenges the ideas of male privilege and touches on attempted suicide. 

My Thoughts

I enjoyed True Story, but struggled to love it which had more to do with the likeability of the characters than the concept of the story itself. Nick isn’t likeable from the start due to being an active participant in the rumour mongering, while Alice’s entire personality doesn’t shine through as we read about her through second-hand narratives and never a truly first-hand narrative of herself which I find to be a representation of how she’s been defined throughout her life unable to carve her own place in the world or decidedly express her own opinions. This leads to her being manipulated by those who claim to love her and have her best interests at heart – a result of her early life experiences.

The novel is written in sequences of genres, including extracts from plays written by the characters and unreliable narrators, all of which play a contributory part to the big reveal at the end.

Speaking of which, the ending feels slightly anticlimactic when the truth is revealed with the characters left stunned at the revelation. But perhaps the most powerful aspect was how all of the characters involved, not just Nick and Alice, had allowed the ambiguity of the truth to haunt them and set the wheels in motion for the path that their life took. I was, however, satisfied with an unlikely hero in the end.

As mentioned in an Instagram Live I hosted, there are parallels of this novel with My Dark Vanessa where reports of sexual abuse are manipulated to portray the victim in a negative and accusatory light by those who in authority to protect the abuser. True Story takes a story of possible sexual assault and turns it on its head to show how easily the truth, and the victim, is manipulated to suit an agenda. It also addresses issues such as consent, the attitudes of male privilege, entitlement, trivialisation of inebriated teenagers as ‘party girls’, the ease with which authority figures exploit the truth, to name a few. 

Although Kate Reed Petty is being praised for writing a multi-genre book, I think the point is being missed entirely because the underlying reason for the genres is not merely a determinant of writing skilfully, but it represents that the truth is easily lost in details, one-sided narratives and varying approaches and that to find the truth requires putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to see the bigger picture. The strength of True Story is its ability to mask itself as a multi-genre book and lull the reader into a false sense of security while essentially being a narrative around the ambiguous nature of truth itself in a world where reputations are easily ruined by the rumour mill and self-confidence is shattered to the point of no return.

True Story kept me guessing and now it has me questioning everything I hear. It’s thought-provokingly thrilling, mysterious and chilling. Engrossing to the very end, the revelation that the extent to which rumours can control our lives more than the truth itself is devastating.

  • I was kindly gifted a copy of True Story by Quercus Books. You can purchase a copy from Blackwells here.
  • Publisher: Quercus Publishing
  • ISBN: 9781529408539 
  • Number of pages: 400

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