“Spellbinding.” —Megan Abbott, The New York Times Book Review
Tracing the fifteen-year fallout of a toxic high school rumor, a riveting, astonishingly original debut novel about the power of stories—and who gets to tell them
2015. A gifted and reclusive ghostwriter, Alice Lovett makes a living helping other people tell their stories. But she is haunted by the one story she can't tell: the story of, as she puts it, "the things that happened while I was asleep."
1999. Nick Brothers and his lacrosse teammates return for their senior year at their wealthy Maryland high school as the reigning state champions. They're on top of the world—until two of his friends drive a passed-out girl home from of the team's "legendary" parties, and a rumor about what happened in the backseat spreads through the town like wildfire.
The boys deny the allegations, and, eventually, the town moves on. But not everyone can. Nick descends into alcoholism, and Alice builds a life in fits and starts, underestimating herself and placing her trust in the wrong people. When she finally gets the opportunity to confront the past she can't remember—but which has nevertheless shaped her life—will she take it?
An inventive and breathtaking exploration of a woman finding her voice in the wake of trauma, True Story is part psychological thriller, part fever dream, and part timely comment on sexual assault, power, and the very nature of truth. Ingeniously constructed and full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the final pages, it marks the debut of a singular and daring new voice in fiction.
|Edition description:||Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When you last came to ask for this story, I'd already been hiding out in Barcelona for years. I live in an airy studio on the top floor of a five-story building, with tile floors and a big sliding glass door that opens onto a patio; the patio is lined with terra-cotta pots too heavy to move, left by the previous tenants and overflowing with succulents. The apartment is inexpensive and private; the neighbors keep to themselves, and the landlord likes her checks in the mail. It took a little while, but now I feel safe enough here that on hot nights I don't close the patio door, leaving my bedroom open to the breeze whispering up from the city streets and to the phantom intruders that used to haunt my dreams.
I love this apartment the way astronauts love their ships. My only complaint is the display in the window of the pharmacy downstairs, which I pass every day on my morning run. It features three female mannequins with rounded onyx surfaces where their faces should be, their arms and legs cut off at the biceps and thighs. They've been arranged in come-hither poses, hips torqued out as though they were modeling bikinis-but instead, they model first-aid equipment. The one closest to my apartment door has a black lumbar support belt strapped around her waist like a corset and a blue sling for a broken arm draped around her neck. Perched in a wheelchair to her left, another has a knee brace attached at the thigh. The third leans stiffly against the far wall, a sleep mask covering the place where her eyes should be.
For months and months now, this display hasn't changed. Try as I might to look away, I can't help glancing at it as I pass, the way a woman in a horror movie can't resist going upstairs. Don't take this the wrong way, but whenever I look at the mannequins I think of you. My oldest friend, you have always stood by me in the face of casual misogyny and bad taste.
When you came to Barcelona, I really did intend to meet you at your hotel, as I'd said I would. But then I got to the street and found myself walking in the opposite direction. I needed time to think. It was one of those abundant late-summer days, and I walked in a wide arc, under orange trees ruffling their leaves in the sun. I passed old women walking arm in arm, families pushing children on swings in clean public playgrounds. I walked all the way to the Parc de la Ciutadella, where green parrots bobbled around, mingling with pigeons on the paving stones.
I didn't mean to stand you up. I told myself I was circling around to approach your hotel from the opposite side, but then I just kept circling.
Eventually I walked back to my apartment. I turned off my phone, then went out and sat on my wide patio in the afternoon sun and finished a mystery novel whose ending I'd guessed from the start. I fell asleep for a while, and when I woke up I cooked a more complicated dinner than I usually bother to-pasta with olives and artichoke hearts, an endive salad on the side. It was delicious. Only when the dishes were clean did I finally call your hotel.
I'm sure you thought I was still angry. The truth is I was embarrassed. You've always been the one who was brave-no, the one who was sure. You've always been so sure of the story you want me to tell, the story you've been asking me for since we were seventeen: the story about the things that happened while I was asleep. "It's your story," you would say. "If you don't let it out, it will take over your life." But the story is mine only as the victim owns the prosecution, or the whale the harpoon. Telling it has always been the privilege of the perpetrators, who have the actual facts, and of the bystanders-like you-who believe they know.
Back then I wasn't ready to explain. So I told the receptionist not to call your room, just to give you the message that I'd been summoned to London on short notice by a demanding client. "Tell her not to wait for me," I said. "I'm not sure when I'll return." Then I turned off my phone again and went back out to the patio. I watched the lights blinking on across the city like eyes, a constellation of night watchmen. I hoped you would accept my excuse, though I knew it was obviously false.
Now I hope you'll accept this instead.
by Alice Lovett
& Haley Moreland
INTERIOR. A ONE-ROOM CABIN IN THE WOODS - NIGHT
LISA is sitting alone with a bottle of RED WINE and a PINT OF ICE CREAM. She's been CRYING. Her makeup is all SMEARED.
I can't believe that bastard!
Lisa GULPS down an ENTIRE GLASS OF WINE.
She WIPES her mouth. She THROWS the glass across the room. The glass SHATTERS.
Fifteen years of marriage! And he leaves me for . . . Francesca!!!
Lisa flops forward facedown onto the table. She WAILS.
Why, Jim? Why? Why?
She reaches over and takes a big bite of ICE CREAM.
This ice cream isn't even that good!
Suddenly: There is a LOUD THUMP ON THE DOOR!
Lisa JUMPS. She stands up. She stares at the door.
Who . . . who is it?
Lisa slowly OPENS THE DOOR and sees: There is a LARGE KNIFE stuck point-first in the face of the door.
Lisa SCREAMS and SLAMS the door closed.
THEN: She hears the sound of A WOMAN LAUGHING EVILLY.
Lisa SPINS around.
There's no one else in the room.
But: The ICE CREAM PINT has been knocked over. There's a puddle of MELTED ICE CREAM on the table.
Oh my god.
Lisa sees that someone has DRAGGED A FINGER THROUGH THE MELTED ICE CREAM, spelling out:
SATAN STILL LOVES YOU
Lisa RUNS to the door and flings it open.
She GRABS the KNIFE.
Then she FLEES.
EXTERIOR. THE WOODS AT NIGHT - CONTINUOUS
Lisa RUNS through the WOODS, panicked. Looking back over her shoulder . . .
She TRIPS! She FALLS! The KNIFE flies out of her hand!
Lisa looks up. It's FRANCESCA. A beautiful woman with heavy red lipstick and thick blue eye shadow.
Happy to see me?
No! You stole my husband!
Francesca is witheringly condescending.
I didn't "steal" your husband. I distracted him. I really want YOU.
Lisa scrambles backward. She's edging closer to THE KNIFE.
I stole Jim so that you would come to your vacation cabin alone.
Why did you do that?
Because I want you to join us!
The brides of Satan!
Your husband is tied to a tree back there. All you have to do is sacrifice him with that knife, and then Satan will make us both all-powerful!
Lisa leans over and picks up the KNIFE, considers it.
So all I have to do is kill Jim . . .
Think of how easily he left you!
. . . Like this?
Lisa LUNGES forward and STABS Francesca in the heart.
Francesca SCREAMS and FALLS to her KNEES.
We could have been . . . all-powerful . . .
Lisa stands, catching her breath. She looks up and off into the woods. She REALIZES.
Jim!!! I'm coming!
FADE TO BLACK.
In the fall of our senior year, my buddy Max Platt was arrested for shining a laser pointer at an airplane. We didn't even know this was illegal. It was one of the least bad things Max ever did, and it was hilarious that it ended up being the thing he got in trouble for. (This was still a few months before the whole thing with the private school girl.)
We were at Denny's when we heard the story, of course. The lacrosse team practically owned Denny's. But that night it was just Max and me and my old buddy Richard Roth.
Been doing it since August, Max said. He'd cut class, go out to the empty field behind the auditorium, and lie on the sandy grass, pointing the red light at the sky, slowly waving it back and forth. Like the Bat-Signal.
Really? Richard said.
It always got under my skin how Richard was so impressed with Max. So I said, But why, Batman? What's the point?
Fucks with the pilots, Max said.
Max did a lot of things we wished we had the balls for. But this one, personally, I never understood the appeal.
He told the story again at practice. The story was better with all of us there. Max stood up and did his impression of the cop who caught him. "What are you doing?" he said, in a big Yosemite Sam voice. He waddled around with his hands out to the side, like he was too fat to put his arms all the way down.
"I slipped and fell," I shouted Max said, or I tried to shout, I dunno, I was so fucking high, who knows. I put my hands up over my head, they felt like jelly, like I was moving them through jelly.
We all nodded like we knew what he meant. Like we'd all been too high to raise our arms. Even though I knew for a fact some of those guys had never smoked.
The cop goes, "Get over here, son. Put your arms down." I just leave my bowl in the grass, he never checked, too lazy to walk a hundred feet, Max said. He had no fucking clue.
We were all cracking up listening to the story. The cop had no clue Max was high! We shook our heads.
Cops are such dumbasses, I said. Everyone laughed.
But the next Monday, Max wasn't at practice. He was suspended. Coach told us the laser pointer thing was actually a federal crime. A $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. We were all super low that day. The state championships were only eight months away. We wondered if Max would be in prison then. We wondered if he would tell the FBI that we smoked weed. For a while we discussed nothing else, jogging in anxious circles around the track.
But in the end nothing really happened. We were only seventeen. And Max's dad was a CPA, so maybe he knew a good lawyer. Max didn't even have to do community service. He was put on probation and had to check in with a cop every month for a year. That was basically it. The only other thing was that he had to get up in front of the whole school and give a speech about the dangers of laser pointers. It was, of course, hilarious.
Say it with me: watch where you stick your pointer, Max said, pointing his thumb over the podium like Bill Clinton. And everyone in the auditorium said it with him: WATCH WHERE YOU STICK YOUR POINTER.
Mr. Kaminsky, the English teacher, tried to step in-"Thank you, Max, that's enough"-but the whole school just kept chanting it: WATCH WHERE YOU STICK YOUR POINTER! WATCH WHERE YOU STICK YOUR POINTER!
In the end it took two administrators to quiet everyone down, Max grinning onstage the whole time. We sat in the back and cheered him on. We knew that he was with us again.
The only thing was, now he had a record, so he couldn't get caught again. But we didn't think that would be a problem. If we could get out of a felony, we could get out of anything.
I made varsity sophomore year, a year earlier than Max. Richard and I had gone to lax camp and we were pretty good. Only two other sophomores made varsity that year, Ham Tierney and Alan Byron.
The four of us got buzzed in together the first week, right after last period on a Friday. There was only half an hour between last period and practice. It wasn't much time. And you had to do fifteen push-ups for every minute you were late to practice. I wasn't that good at push-ups and doing more than ten was humiliating, so I made sure I was never late. I always went to the locker room right away after chemistry.
That day, I was thinking about something a girl had just said to me at the end of class. She'd said, "Nick, for a guy, you've got such pretty hair." I couldn't understand why she'd said it. We weren't having a conversation. We were standing at our desks, packing up our stuff, and she just said it, out of nowhere. But she said it in a really nice way. Maybe she meant it as a compliment, and I should have asked her out. Maybe she was being sarcastic and insulting me, and I should have said my hair was pretty like my dick, and then I should have asked her out. The point is, I failed.
This is what I was thinking about when I opened the locker room door and saw like six of the juniors and seniors sitting silently on the benches. This was strange. Usually I was the only one there so early. I let the door swing closed behind me. Then, all of a sudden, I had a funny feeling. I had this sense that I should get out of there. But they were already up. They grabbed me and then I was on the floor.
When you play lacrosse, you get used to being under a lot of weight. We always pile up after a goal, to celebrate. We even did it at camp, where the goals don't matter. The weight freaks you out at first, like you're drowning. But you get used to it. I was used to it by then. It was kind of a familiar feeling, actually. It helped me stay calm. I just breathed and tried to play it cool.
One senior straddled my chest and someone was holding my legs and one guy was tugging on my hair. "With this long hair, you're just too pretty," someone said.
I wondered if I was really so pretty. Between the girl in chemistry and now the team, I wondered if people were going to keep saying this to me forever.
"So pretty she's turning me on," someone said, and they all laughed. I was pissed off, but I didn't want to seem like a jerk. I hoped I didn't look pissed off. The guy on my chest was pulling his dick out over his shorts waistband. That freaked me out. But I stayed still. I knew that as long as I didn't resist, it would be over soon, and then they'd leave me alone. There was a buzzing sound. "Hold still, my pretty," someone said. "Wouldn't want to slip."
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the title of the novel. Why do you think the author chose this title? What is its relationship to the story?
2. What is your definition of “truth?” Is it different from fact? How does context shape what (and who) people hear and believe? Do you believe fiction to be an effective medium for exploring truth, even though the events of the story are constructed or imagined?
3. True Story explores the great and terrible influence that stories can have on our lives. How is Alice’s life and identity shaped by the stories that she and others tell? What do you make of her occupation as a ghostwriter and her effort to refine and polish personal stories and voices for public consumption? What gives a story its power?
4. Discuss Haley and Alice’s friendship and how it changes over the years that the novel spans. In what ways to they understand or misinterpret each other? What is each seeking from the other? How do their expectations for Alice’s story differ, and why?
5. Did your opinion of Nick evolve over the course of the novel? Did you empathize with him at any point? How did you feel about the revelation regarding Nick at the end of the novel?
6. Discuss the themes of loyalty, atonement, and forgiveness threaded through the novel. When are the characters acting from a place of personal conviction, and when are they acting out of a sense of social pressure or obligation? Do you think forgiveness is always a possibility, and if so, what makes it possible?
7. True Story examines power dynamics in a variety of relationships—platonic, sexual, romantic, even paternal. Consider Nick’s hazing by his lacrosse teammates and his devotion to his coach, the evolution of Alice’s relationship with Q, or any other such relationships that you see in the novel. How does power function in these relationships? Which did you find most compelling, and why?
8. Author Kate Reed Petty incorporates elements from a range of fictional genres, including suspense, horror, and noir, into her novel. Why do you think that is? What is the effect on the novel?
9. As a teenager, Alice uses horror to process her trauma. Do you believe that art that is frightening or disturbing can have power beyond shocking or scaring us?
10. True Story is rife with “found documents,” including screenplays, transcripts, emails, and essay drafts. How did these different mediums affect your reading of the story and your understanding of the characters? Which of these elements did you find especially effective or poignant? Do you think that you would have experienced the story differently if these parts of the novel were replaced with more straightforward or plain text?
11. Petty has said that, during the years she spent writing True Story, a consistent response has been that the story is very “timely”—issues around sexual assault, gendered power dynamics, and which voices get heard are, she says, “unfortunately perennially timely.” What do you make of that assessment? Do you think that the “Lax World” section of the book (set in 1999) could have taken place today? If not, how would it be different?
12. Finally, how would you characterize Alice’s personal transformation over the course of the novel? What kind of life do you think she will have going forward, and how will she apply her talents?