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Big Lies in a Small Town

by Diane Chamberlain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5537037,560 (4.19)23
"From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel. North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women's Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold-until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets. North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder. What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
A young woman during the Depression is chosen to paint a post office mural. This is part of a government art project, and this project will help launch the young woman as an artist. Not to mention, being paid for creating artwork during the Depression was rare.

60 years later, another young woman is selected to restore that same mural. The original mural was completed but never installed. And in fact it was lost for a long time and there are many mysteries surrounding it.

The book alternates between the two timelines, and covers a fascinating slice of American history.

( )
  sriddell | Aug 6, 2022 |
Chamberlain squeezed this story until it squealed. What the heck do I mean by that?

Every scenario that unfolded, every mystery, question raised, and tetchy relationship was handled with intrigue, credible actions, and resolved. Nothing was left flapping in the wind.

This was a wonderful page turner with brief, crisp chapters that always moved scenes forward. None of Chamberlain's characters lollygagged about on the page. They showed up with their problems and individual personalities and provided the perfect lens for the reader to peer through, and to become attached to them.

I met Diane Chamberlain at the release of this book, and I recall her telling her audience that she'd written Anna Dale's chapters and Morgan Christopher's chapters in totality before she integrated them to become the layout the book is today. The audience really reacted to that because it's . . . brilliant.

And so is her writing. ( )
  DonnaEverhart | Jun 21, 2022 |
I requested this book from NetGalley because I thoroughly enjoyed Chamberlain's earlier novel, [Necessary Lies]. This one did not disappoint. Although different in subject matter, this novel also addressed some forms of prejudice in the United States in the early 19th century. More directly however, this novel is the story of a young artist, Anna Dale, who, in 1940, beat out more experienced, local artists to win the opportunity to paint a mural for the town's post office depicting the history of Edenton, North Carolina.
When, in 2018, the painting, hidden for many years, is to be restored, Morgan Christopher finds there is more to this mural than just the history of Edenton.
Well constructed novel with nicely drawn characters and, like paint to a canvas, totally absorbing.
Thanks to NetGalley, the author and publisher for allowing me to read this advanced copy. I regret I did not read it on a more timely basis but I intend to spread the word that this novel should not be missed. ( )
  Carmenere | Jun 19, 2022 |
I picked this one up on recommendation after I recently discovered the author Diane Chamberlain. This one also has local NC color. I enjoyed that facet as well as the art discovery/mystery/tragedies told in 2 alternating voices separated by almost 80 years. I loved how everything came together in the end. ( )
  deslivres5 | Apr 25, 2022 |
Bestselling author Diane Chamberlain says the stories she tells "are often filled with twists and surprises and –- I hope -– they also tug at the emotions." All of her book have one thing in common. They "focus on relationships — between men and women, parents and children, sisters and brothers, friends and enemies." Big Lies in a Small Town is no exception.

The story opens in June 2018 at the North Carolina Correctional Facility for Women in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Morgan, age twenty-two, has been incarcerated for a year. Via Morgan's first-person narrative, readers learn that two unexpected visitors dramatically change the trajectory of Morgan's life on that day. Raised by alcoholic parents who never really wanted her, Morgan also developed a drinking problem which culminated in a catastrophic vehicle accident and Morgan's conviction for a crime she didn't commit, but should have prevented. At the time, she was an art major, but irresponsible and misguided decisions derailed her education and the life she envisioned after graduation.

Now Morgan is face to face with Lisa, the daughter of famed artist Jesse Jameson Williams, and her attorney. She learns that Jesse died five months earlier at the age of ninety-five. He spent the last twenty-five years of his life helping young artists "he thought had promise but were having a hard time with school or family or maybe just heading down the wrong path." None of the women know how or why Morgan was on Jesse's "Good Samaritan radar" -- Morgan never met him -- but he had decided she would be his "next project." Now Morgan is being offered an early release from prison and $50,000 if she agrees to restore an old 1940s mural. Among the complications is the fact that Morgan has no expertise in art restoration, she must live in Edenton, North Carolina, while performing the work, and the restoration must be completed in time for the opening of the gallery Jesse was building before his death. The restored mural must be hung in the foyer and the gallery must open on August 5th. The mural was supposed to be painted by Anna Dale and hung in the Edenton Post Office, but Anna never completed the painting. Jesse told Lisa that Anna "lost her mind while she was working on it," but Lisa does not know how Jesse came into possession of the mural. Although Morgan has no idea how she will complete the work on the mural in time, she can't pass up the "get out of jail free" card being offered to her.

In alternating chapters, Chamberlain employs a third-person narrative to tell the story of Anna Dale, who is notified in December 1939 that she has won the "Special 48-States Mural Competition" and awarded the opportunity to create a mural not for her hometown of Bordentown, New Jersey, but for the Edenton Post Office. Anna has never been to North Carolina and is not prepared for life in a small Southern town. "She'd never had any yearning to travel south of the Mason-Dixon line, and she was glad she'd only be here for a few days. The South seemed so backward to her" with its segregation laws. But the mural must be 12' by 6' and completed by June 3, 1940, in order for Anna to claim the prize money that she desperately needs. Initially, Anna plans to visit Edenton for three days in order to learn about the town and create her sketch of the mural which must be approved by the selection committee. She has just buried her mother and is reeling from her death. Soon it becomes clear that she will need to remain in Edenton so she agrees to rent a room from Myrtle Simms, a widow whose daughter, Pauline, has just married and moved out of her mother's home. Ann brings few belongings to Edenton, but among them is a brown leather journal her mother gifted her shortly before she died, and strikes up a friendship with Pauline.

Chamberlain deftly advances the dual storylines as the two women face the challenges of creating and restoring the mural. Anna has a hard time adjusting to life in Edenton. She is pressured by the male leaders of the community about what scenes should be depicted in the mural. And there is Martin Drapple, the artist who was born and raised in Edenton. Of course, everyone in town knows him and most residents have one of his paintings hanging in their home. Everyone expected him to win the competition -- especially Martin. His wife lets her resentment be known, but Martin offers to assist Anna with the mural after she adapts an abandoned warehouse outside of town into her makeshift studio. Does Martin have an ulterior motive? And Anna becomes the subject of gossip and speculation when a high school teacher asks her to let one of her most talented students join two other youngsters who are helping Anna with the mural. He's failing most of his classes because all he wants to do is draw, and he needs more advanced tutelage than the teacher can give him. The only thing keeping him from dropping out of school is art class, but his future looks grim because his parents need him to remain at home and work alongside them on the family farm. Anna does not understand why the townspeople look down on her being alone with the young African American man in the warehouse as work on the mural proceeds. She is outraged by their blatant bigotry. The young man is indeed talented and Anna wants to guide him toward a future as an artist. He is none other than Jesse Williams, and he and Anna are destined to help each other in ways neither can foresee.

In 2018, Morgan's work on the mural proceeds slowly as she resides with Lisa in the home Jesse left her. Her stress is exacerbated as she learns more about the strict provisions contained in his will and the penalties for noncompliance. The condition of the unfinished mural makes the restoration more challenging and time-consuming than Morgan anticipated, and the scenes it depicts are mysterious and troubling. Did Anna indeed suffer from mental illness while working on the mural? Morgan seeks answers from Lisa's family members, but the one who might be able to answer Morgan's many questions suffers from dementia. As Morgan works on the mural, she finds herself increasingly drawn to Oliver Jones, the gallery's curator who, like her, is eager to unravel the mysteries of the mural and Anna, whose fate remains unknown. Morgan is hesitant to get involved with Oliver for a number of reasons, including the way her previous relationship ended. She is required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and meet with her parole agent regularly, and is determined not to squander the chance she has been given to remain free. But she is haunted by memories of the night that ruined her life, as well as that of a young woman named Emily Maxwell. Can she forgive herself? Should she attempt to find Emily in an attempt to make amends?

Chamberlain explores the emotions Morgan and Anna experience during the months they spend in Edenton in a credible, compassionate manner. She gradually reveals details about Anna's relationship with her mother and her fear that she might be more like her mother than she wants to be. She also believably depicts Anna's difficulties adjusting to life in Edenton, particularly the misogyny and racism that shock and sadden her. Likewise, Morgan is a sympathetic, fully-developed character -- a young woman who had a terrible childhood and must break free of the behavior patterns and beliefs she carried into adulthood that caused her to demonstrate extremely poor judgment. She is earnestly struggling to accept her mistakes and learn to forgive herself so that she can find peace. She develops a deep connection not just to the work she is performing on the mural, but to Anna, becoming extremely protective of her legacy and doggedly searching for clues to her fate. Both narratives move forward at a steady pace, ultimately merging as all of the big secrets and lies that have remained unknown for nearly eighty years are disclosed.

Once again, Chamberlain's storytelling prowess makes Big Lies in a Small Town engrossing and emotionally resonant. Her characters are flawed, but endearing and empathetic. Chamberlain explores racial injustice, domestic violence, and mental illness and its destructive legacy. Betrayal, retribution, and murder factor into an intriguing mystery. True to her writing style, Chamberlain's story is, at its core, focused on her characters' relationships -- friendship, loyalty, resilience, and, of course, forgiveness. And she succeeds at doing what she always does: Big Lies in a Small Town tugs at readers' emotions. Chamberlain provides her memorable characters with a satisfying conclusion to their story.

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book. ( )
  JHSColloquium | Dec 23, 2021 |
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Diane Chamberlainprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bennett, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my stepdaughters, Brittany Walls, Alana Glaves, and Caitlin Campbell, each an artist in her own right.
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The children knew it was finally spring, so although the air still held the nip of winter and the grass and weeds crunched beneath their feet, they ran through the fields and woods, yipping with the anticipation of warmer weather.
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"From bestselling author Diane Chamberlain comes an irresistible new novel. North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher's life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women's Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold-until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets. North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn't expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder. What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?"--

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