by Robb Forman Dew; Boston, Little, Brown, and Company, 2005, 336 pages, $24.95
Dr. Stotland is professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical College, Chicago.
Agnes Scofield's husband Warren died and left her with little money and four young children in the Scofield family compound with the circular driveway. With some help from the family, a teaching job, and careful scrimping, she maintained the house and raised the children. The action of The Truth of the Matter begins many years later, when Agnes is in her fifties but still preoccupied with memories of her dead husband. She carries out her parental duties, loves her children, and has occasional sex with a male friend but without internal psychological animation.
As such a life story might unfold in psychotherapy, it is only at the end of the book that we understand why. In the meanwhile, we learn about four or five generations of the blond, blue-eyed Scofield clan, whose look is recognizable to everyone in their small community.
Before Warren's death, he and Agnes became the guardians of an infant nephew while they were expecting their own first child. The complex dynamics of the relationship between these two boys—and their relationships with Agnes—receive more attention from the author than do Agnes's relationships with her other children, which leaves the reader wondering whether they are neglected by Agnes as well. Psychodynamically oriented readers will appreciate a description of Agnes' adoption of a dog and her sons' reactions when they come home and encounter the new pet.
Robb Forman Dew won the National Book Award for a previous novel, Dale Loves Sophie to Death. Although I haven't read that, this book is a reasonably good read. Unfortunately, I felt somewhat dragged down into Agnes' muted, probably chronically depressed, state of living day to day in the quiet atmosphere of a small town and a limited social circle, which is typified by potato salad, ham, and turkey for the Fourth of July celebration, errands, and evenings with friends and relatives.
Agnes doesn't care much about anything, and that makes it difficult for the reader to care about her. It is not clear that her husband's death was a mysterious one until we learn what happened near the end of the book. Therefore, no mystery is there to pull the reader in. The story of Agnes's childhood and that of the Scofields of her generation is interesting, as is the impact of World War II, during and after which the action takes place, on each family member. As they drift back to town to live or visit, we learn about their marital choices and the relationships among the in-laws. The advent of grandchildren wakes Agnes from her torpor to some degree, as does her shock when her daughter falls in love with the man Agnes slept with but refused to marry. By the end of the book, Agnes gets a bit of perspective, and the reader does as well.