Truth, Lies and Apartments

The Truth Is

By Simon McAslan

A review of The Truth Is by Mary Soderstrom

Published on October 1, 2000

The Truth Is
Mary Soderstrom

Oberon Press
$15.95
paperback
168pp
0-7780-1160-7

The hardest thing to tell is the truth. Mary Soderstrom’s collection of short stories examines the difficulty of both discerning the truth and telling it. Each story reveals how relationships involve the daunting choice between concealing and revealing. The ultimate concern of the book, however, is storytelling itself.

The book takes us through the lives of several women in the Mile End district of Montreal. The first story sets the tone for the whole volume as the narrator struggles to remember and recount events faithfully against a backdrop of lies and betrayal. She cannot distinguish fact from conjecture, musing at one point, “The truth, the truth. Tell me, do you think it ever matters?”

It may or may not matter, but the search for it permeates this collection. Some repetitive phrases and images echo: at least five stories mention someone “shivering,” and the notorious #80 bus makes several appearances. But what Soderstrom lacks in variety she makes up for in her ability to tell small yet poignant truths about relationships.

The narrators tell rather than show each character’s thoughts and feelings in meticulous detail, to the point where they become almost lost in information. This makes it more difficult to discover the characters ourselves; sometimes they seem interchangeable. In the context of the book’s narrative strategy and thematic concerns, however, this overt telling highlights the narrators themselves and their obsessions with details.
Clever, touching, troubling or funny, Soderstrom’s elaborate fictions tell us how we all need lies to see the immanent Truth in the everyday. mRb

Simon McAslan is a Montreal playwright whose plays have been produced in Vancouver, Victoria, and Montreal.

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