by Kelly Rodgers
Set in early twentieth-century Georgia, The Truth Together follows the Herndon family, Alonzo, Adrienne, and their two children, Norris and Effie, while examining the ugly side of human nature and its effects along the way.
The novel opens with Effie Herndon, about to board a train to fulfill a one-year nursing role at the Georgia State Sanitarium. What she finds there is both eye-opening and shocking especially when she meets Fern Walker, who was born in the asylum.
I love a good, sweeping, multi-generational saga and The Truth Together is a very good one, and more than capably straddles the genres of historical fiction, crime, and mystery.
The beginning has a touch of first novel nerves but only for a couple of passages, and then the narrative settles down to fully engage the reader. The story explores some dark territory but, conversely, it remains an effortlessly easy and enjoyable read.
Multi-perspective and primarily flitting from Alonzo Herndon’s story set in the 1900s to daughter Effie’s and sanitarium inmate Fern’s in the 20s. Rodgers is a natural storyteller who has gifted this book with a well-judged pace and structure.
Interspersed with Alonzo, Effie, and Fern are stories and viewpoints from additional characters, past and present, all of whom are connected in some way to each other, and events at the sanitarium.
However, each individual has their own personal story which subtly unfolds. This not only affords depth but, even in the most unlikeable of personalities, ensures reader understanding if not always their sympathy.
Effie, for me, was the nucleus of the book and a lovely character who gradually grew in confidence and belief. There is a real sense of considered progression in her depiction; by the end of the story, she felt like an old friend.
Similarly, Fern also evolves beautifully and believably. Rodgers utilizes her very well within the narrative to drive it forward. The dynamic between her and Effie was touching in its quiet strength.
Alonzo was excellently realized and really could have his own novel. I did struggle a touch with Adrienne; she was lacking something, and this made her interestingly enigmatic but also slightly frustrating.
Special mention to supporting characters, Sallie Davis and Mr. Ingram who were nicely convincing and authentic.
Racism, Jim Crow, segregation, and the legacy of slavery form the backbone of the story, and there are some profoundly shocking moments as a result. Further, the sanitarium is a cauldron of abject misery, extreme vulnerability, and complete neglect.
Consequently, the inmates are easily suggestible and prey to the worst of humanity. Rodgers is never overly explicit and the horrors of the place are mainly revealed through the emotional reactions and behavior of the women involved.
Indeed, The Truth Together is a book of conflicts and contrasts, internally within the characters and externally, in the wider world. Rodgers explores these struggles with integrity and thoroughness that always relates to, and complements her narrative.
A technique that is used to excellent effect is foreshadowing chiefly concerning Fern. Rodgers balances this well, enough for knowing suspense but not so much that plot elements are spoiled.
Nonetheless, there is a twist at the conclusion that has not been signposted and which is a neat touch, entirely credible, and gives the nod to the actual Herndon family who inspired The Truth Together.
Notwithstanding, there is a loose end regarding Fern which can certainly be developed in a future novel or, frankly, left to the reader’s imagination. It works equally.
The Truth Together is an extremely readable, absorbing, and thoroughly entertaining debut novel full of historical insight and intrigue. Highly recommended.