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The Keepers of Truth by Michael Collins

The Keepers of Truth (2000)

by Michael Collins

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A strange book that occasionally rises to the level of a Booker Prize nominee (which it was) but that is also deeply flawed.

A big part of the book seems to be the feeling of being left behind by history/the economy. Bill, the narrator, vacillates at the threshold of his working life, having failed his LSATs and returned to the home in which his father committed suicide. The town he returns to (Ft. Wayne?) has been devastated by the late 1970s economic downturn (book is set in 1978 or so). Collins does a very good job conveying the desperation and degradation of that period. Every 20 pages of so, though, Bill launches into a crap-artist grad-student rant about what's going on around him. This grows very tiresome.

Through all this the plot seems largely to go by the wayside . . . I think the idea may have been to do a Raymond Chandler novel with a crucial change of setting--1970s Mid-West podunkville in place of the Chandler's 1940s LA, and a bit of humor in place of Chandler's moralism. But the humor is not quite beyond that moralism. It is, in fact that vacillating ironic stance we've come to know so well: it is entirely in agreement with the judgment of moralism (Collins' sympathy for the historical victims here is genuine), but doesn't like the *style* of seeming to take things so seriously. Somehow outrage is not a sophisticated enough stance, but the writer really has no other response. Collins simply does not have the insight to find the comic in this situation. (Few authors do.)

Out of this quandary--essentially driven by the author's desire to strike a contemporary, relevant pose--we get the verbose historical self-consciousness of our narrator, Bill, which is entirely ruinous to the project.

A good idea, well executed in some respects, that could have succeeded with a pretty thorough-going revision. ( )
  ehines | Mar 15, 2014 |
Well, that was a waste of perfectly good reading time. The Keepers of Truth starts out with a mystery: a man disappears from a small midwestern town, and his ne'er-do-well do son is automatically a suspect. Bill, a reporter for the local newspaper, is on the beat but for some reason doesn't want to cover the investigation; instead he wants to write Really Great Prose about the meaning of life and how the crime is somehow representative of the sad decline of small towns and American industry in general. Bill is a recent college graduate but comes across more like a 40-year-old suffering a mid-life crisis. The other main characters are all various archetypes of the American white male. Women are cast in subservient roles, primarily as waitresses or cheerleaders. Their breasts fall out of their blouses and they reveal their underwear with alarming frequency. Even the woman TV news reporter is objectified.

As if that weren't enough, the story darts all over the place. Bill is on the scene reporting the crime. Bill pines after his former girlfriend. Bill spends all night in a diner, several nights in a row (how does he go to work the next day? Beats me). Bill decides to prepare for law school again having failed the first time. Bill pines after his girlfriend again. Bill joins the police chief in rounding up rowdy high school students cruising the main drag.

All that in just over 80 pages. By then I'd had enough. The Keepers of Truth was nominated for the 2000 Booker Prize, competing against a field that included The Blind Assassin (which won), The Deposition of Father McGreevy, English Passengers, The Hiding Place, and When We Were Orphans. Go read one of those instead.

  lauralkeet | Sep 26, 2012 |
I decided to read this, although it sounded like it had too much death and murder for my taste, because it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
I found the novel rambling and the main character, Bill,distracted and annoying; he consistently did the most stupid thing. He had clearly had an unsatisfactory life up to that date, but that seemed no excuse to see women in terms of their ability to deliver oral sex. As well as the murder, the novel has the theme of small town USA on hard times, but it didn't really carry this off for me, as the stupidity of Bill over-shadowed everything. I carried on to the end, just to see who did it and really wished I hadn't bothered. ( )
  Tifi | Jun 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743218035, Paperback)

The last of a manufacturing dynasty in a dying industrial town, Bill lives alone in the family mansion and works for the "Truth," the moribund local paper. He yearns to write long philosophical pieces about the American dream gone sour, not the flaccid write-ups of bake-off contests demanded by the "Truth." Then, old man Lawton goes missing, and suspicion fixes on his son, Ronny. Paradoxically, the specter of violent death breathes new life into the town. For Bill, a deeper and more disturbing involvement with the Lawtons ensues. The Lawton murder and the obsessions it awakes in the town come to symbolize the mood of a nation on the edge. Compulsively readable, "The Keepers of Truth" startles both with its insights and with Collins's powerful, incisive writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:43 -0400)

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Written by the winner of the Kerry Ingredients Irish Book of the Year award, this literary thriller combines a small-town murder mystery with an extraordinary exploration into the death of the American dream.

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