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Book Review   |    
Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell
Richard A. Fields, Sr., M.D.
Psychiatric Services 1999; doi:
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by Ellen Douglas; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998, 221 pages, $18.95

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The writer of this 221-page work is an accomplished Southern novelist. She and the book's title tell us that she can now reveal certain truths because she has outlived those who might be disconcerted by them. Such a premise is alluring and could make interesting reading. Four chapters follow. Each chapter is entitled with the name of one or more of its characters, suggesting the author offers a significant story and a telling truth about them.

Unfortunately, the revelations are disappointing. Despite their considerable potential, the point (or truth) of each story seems insipid. There is not much of an emotional connection or enrichment of one's psychological appreciation. The four tales, though related, do not build a great deal on each other in the expected manner of a novel. Rather, this is a rambling series of tales punctuated with quaint period descriptions and too-frequent asides.

The book's dust jacket implies there will be insights into black-white relationships. If so, they escaped me. But another insight did occur. To appreciate it, imagine that out of sincere curiosity and respect, you have asked a beloved relative to tell you about your family's early history. The elder responds enthusiastically and adds the titillating promise that she will also share some marvelous secrets with you.

You sit down with growing expectations. But as the elder meanders on and off themes, in and out of reveries, you find it increasingly difficult to understand the point, or where the story is heading. You become frustrated. You respectfully coax and listen harder. Some unknown customs and family events are occasionally shared, but they are mentioned almost in passing, with little sense of their consequence to the raconteur or the family history.

As a matter of politeness you listen to the end and say goodnight. You shake your head in wonderment and chuckle over your disappointment. And, you recall that few things are as flattering as a loving, listening ear. So perhaps you can feel good about having met your elder's need for such company.

It is unclear whether such an experience was the author's conscious or unconscious intent. Perhaps, under a different set of expectations, this relatively brief work, with its easy pace, rich descriptions, and hints of mild mystery, might make a pleasant afternoon's diversion.

Dr. Fields is chief executive officer and senior consultant for Fields & Associates, a private consulting firm for the behavioral health care field in Decatur, Georgia.




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