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Strange but True: A Novel

Strange but True: A Novel

4.2 29
by John Searles

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After a mysterious fall from his Manhattan apartment, Philip Chase has moved home with his mother, Charlene, a bitter woman who has never fully accepted the death ofher younger son, Ronnie, five years earlier. Numb from watching too much TV and trading snipes with his mother, Philip is in stasis. But everything changes one winter night when Ronnie's high school


After a mysterious fall from his Manhattan apartment, Philip Chase has moved home with his mother, Charlene, a bitter woman who has never fully accepted the death ofher younger son, Ronnie, five years earlier. Numb from watching too much TV and trading snipes with his mother, Philip is in stasis. But everything changes one winter night when Ronnie's high school girlfriend shows up on their doorstep to deliver the news that she is pregnant ... and the father, she claims, is Ronnie.

So begins the startling tale as Philip and his mother confront Melissa's past and their own. Their search for answers takes them on an emotional journey, placing them in the path of murder and revenge. At once a moving story of redemption and a heart-stopping work of suspense, Strange but True brings to life a cast of characters that no reader will soon forget.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The world Searles (Boy Still Missing) presents in his second novel is exquisitely odd yet instantly recognizable, as strange but true as the hidden life of one's next-door neighbor. The novel moves in unexpected directions throughout, most notably morphing from a family drama into a kind of mystery/thriller, but its steady gravitational pull-readers should expect to stay up late for this one-testifies to the solidity of its bedrock impressions, cast by an author with extraordinary powers of observation. Searles opens on the night that Melissa Moody, girlfriend to Ronnie Chase, who died five years earlier in a car crash after their high school prom, visits the Chases to tell Ronnie's brother, Philip, and his cantankerous mother that she's pregnant-with, she's sure, Ronnie's child. That revelation spins both Philip and his mother into some sleuthing, of Melissa's situation-could she somehow have saved Ronnie's sperm?-and into their own hearts, ravaged by Ronnie's death and its bitter aftermath, which includes Philip's recent unexplained return to his hometown of Radnor, Pa., from Manhattan. The story shuttles among various point of views and between past and present as Searles peels back layers of concealment to reveal the truths behind the turns in various people's fates, and behind Melissa's claim. Yet while readers will enjoy traveling to the heart of the mystery, what they'll cherish most in this accomplished novel are its startling real characters, with even the minor players-an ambitious Polish librarian; a lonely, aging gay pet owner-all perfectly crafted. Searle's novel should find a wide and grateful readership. (July 20) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Senior books editor at Cosmopolitan, Searles crafts a second novel about a family shocked by the loss of a son-and his girlfriend's announcement years later that she is bearing the young man's child. With a seven-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This novel is reminiscent of Dennis Lehane's Mystic River (Morrow, 2001) with its sharp, realistic character portrayal on top of a somewhat flawed mystery. On prom night, Ronnie Chase is killed when his limo crashes, and his girlfriend is left disfigured. Five years later, she arrives at the Chase house to tell the surviving members of his family that she is pregnant and that the baby is his. Though skeptical, they find themselves wishing that her claims were true and attempting to figure out how this could happen. Many characters share their points of view, from the Chases to Melissa to her landlords. Through these voices, their lives over the last five years are slowly revealed, and readers learn the truth behind the pregnancy. Searles has a great sense of pacing, parceling out bread crumbs of the story that entice readers to keep going. Some of his depictions are better than others-librarians in particular will find flaws in his portrayal of a suburban library branch-but on the whole, the characterization is rich and original. The prom setting, hints of the supernatural, and the satisfying if not entirely resolved ending all have solid teen appeal.-Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Strange but True

Chapter One

Almost five years after Ronnie Chase's death, the phone rings late one windy February evening. Ronnie's older brother, Philip, is asleep on the foldout sofa, because the family room has served as his bedroom ever since he moved home from New York City. Tangled in the sheets -- among his aluminum crutch, balled-up Kleenexes, TV Guides, three remote controls, and a dog-eared copy of an Anne Sexton biography -- is the cordless phone. Philip's hand fumbles in the dark until he dredges it up by the stubby antenna and presses the On button. "Hello."

A faint, vaguely familiar female voice says, "Philip? Is that you?"

Philip opens his mouth to ask who's calling, then stops when he realizes who it is: Melissa Moody, his brother's high school girlfriend. His mind fills with the single image of her on prom night, blood splattered on the front of her white dress. The memory is enough to make his mouth drop open farther. It is an expression all of the Chases will find themselves wearing on their faces in the coming days, beginning with this very phone call. "Missy?"

"Sorry, it's late. Did I wake you?"

Philip stares up at the antique schoolhouse clock on the wall, which has ticked and ticked and ticked in this rambling old colonial for as long as he can remember, though it never keeps the proper time. Both hands point to midnight, when it's only ten-thirty. Back in New York City, people are just finishing dinner or hailing cabs, but here in the Pennsylvania suburbs, the world goes dead after eight. "I'm wide awake," Philip lies. "It's been a long time. How are you?"

"Okay, I guess."

He hears the steady whoosh of cars speeding by in the background. There is a thinly veiled tremble in her voice that tells him she is anything but okay. "Is something the matter?"

"I need to talk to you and your parents."

If she wants to talk to his father, she'll have to track him down in Florida where he lives with his new wife, Holly -- the woman his mother refers to simply as The Slut. But Philip doesn't bother to explain all that, because there is too much to explain already. "What do you want to talk about?"

Before Missy can answer, his mother's heavy footsteps thunder down the stairs. A moment later, she is standing at the edge of the foldout bed, her worn-out white nightgown pressed obscenely against her doughy body. A few nights before, Philip had caught the second half of About Schmidt on cable. Now he thinks of the scene where Kathy Bates bares all before getting in the hot tub -- this moment easily rivals that one. He shifts his gaze to his mother's curly gray hair springing from her head in all directions like a madwoman -- which is fitting, because to Philip, she is a madwoman. "Who is it?"

"Hold on," Philip says into the phone, then to his mother, "it's Missy."

"Melissa? Ronnie's girlfriend?"

Philip nods.

And then there is that expression: her eyebrows arch upward, her mouth drops into an O, as though she too has been spooked by the horrible memory of Melissa's prom dress splattered with Ronnie's blood. "What does she want?"

He gives an exaggerated shrug, then returns his attention to Melissa. "Sorry. My mom just woke up and wanted to know who was on the phone."

"That's okay. How is she anyway?"

All the possible answers to that question rattle around in his mind. There is the everyday fact of his father's absence, his mother's binge eating and ever-increasing weight, her countless pills for blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety, and depression. But all he says is, "She's fine. So what do you want to talk to us about?"

"I'd rather tell you in person. Can I come by sometime?"


"When would be good?"

Philip thinks of his life in New York, the way he asked perfect strangers over to his camper-size studio in the East Village at all hours. The buzzer was broken, so he had to instruct each one to yell from the street. "How about now?" he hears himself say into the phone.

"Now?" Melissa says.

He waits for her to tell him that it's too late, too dark, too cold. But she takes him by surprise.

"Actually, I've waited too long to tell you this. So now sounds good to me."

After they say good-bye, Philip presses the Off button and tosses the cordless back into the rumpled mess of the bed. The skin beneath his cast itches, and he jams two fingers into the narrow pocket of space just above his kneecap, scratching as hard as he can. His mother stares down at him as an onslaught of questions spill from her mouth like she's regurgitating something and she cannot stop: "Aren't you going to tell me what's going on? I mean, why the hell would that girl call here after all this time? What, she doesn't know how rude it is to phone someone so late? For Christ's sake, aren't you going to answer me?"

Philip quits scratching and pulls his fingers free from the cast, which looks more like an elongated ski boot with an opening for his bruised toes at the bottom, instead of the plain white casts kids used to autograph when he was in high school only a decade ago. "If you shut up for a second, I'll answer you."

His mother crosses her arms in front of her lumpy breasts, making a dramatic show of her silence. The other night he'd watched Inside the Actors Studio and one of those actresses with three names (he could never keep track of who was who) had talked about playing her part for the back row of the theater. That's how his mother has gone through life these last five years, Philip thinks, her every move broad enough for the people in the cheap seats.

Strange but True. Copyright © by John Searles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

John Searles is the author of the bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He appears as a book critic on NBC's Today Show, and his essays have been published in the New York Times and Washington Post. He has a master's degree in creative writing from New York University and lives in New York City.

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Strange But True 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great read. Not what I expected.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the few books I've read where you have no idea where it's going until you get there. First book I've read by Searles, but not the last. I honestly couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book overall was VERY good, but some of the chapters seemed a little long. To me though, the ending was total suprise! If you like mysterys and suspence, you definatly need to read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am no good at this review writting. Just read the book, it is great. I bought it Friday night and was finished it the next day. I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply a great story! You'll laugh & cry & pick up a few handy Spanish phrases too! Searles is my new favorite author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great look at sibling rivalry, parents dealing with loss of a child, holding onto the past, wow, just a great deal of 'reality' in this fiction. Beautifully written and each chapter pulls you into the next.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like other readers mentioned before, some of the chapters seemed dragged out and alot of the excerpts alot longer than they need to be, but overall, a great book!! The author did a great job transferring from charachter to charachter in each chapter and presenting the same moment in time through the eyes of each different person. I really couldn't put the book down! Looking forward to his future novels!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book. Skimmed through chapters 5-8, b'cause those were the only chapters i felt stalled a little. Kept me on my toes, till the end.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
his books are a little weird and i usually don't read these kinds but the plot of his stores are REALLY good!! As i have said in his other books ending makes u go mmmmmmm.... buy it u won't be sorry on any of his books!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
With such a promising plotline how coule one go so wrong? Halfway through the book I knew it would just go further and further downhill, but I pressed myself to finish hoping a disaster kills the remaining characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put this book down, it held my attention. Was very easy read and very easy to follow. Sandy from NC
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was so hard to put down, i was sad when i read the last page! a totaly awesome book, i recommend that everyone read it, truely worth its weight in gold!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I couldn't put it down. I absolutely loved the twists and turns of the story. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this was such a good book that i could not put it down for 2 days. the characters each have such important roles in the storyline and they are wonderfully outlined by Mr. Searles. The character of Phillip Chase was brilliantly written. this book truly leaves you wanting more. Good job Searles, you hit it on the nose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i haven't picked up a novel to read for fun i years, normally i would read magazines but while reading one of my monthly have to reads from a magazine i read the passage from the book STRANGE BUT TRUE.. and i didn't want to stop reading it then. so it sent me on a search the next day to find the book, i got it and once i started reading i couldn't stop i never wanted to quit reading it. the suspense kept you wonderign what was going to happen next and as it would switch from past to present it kept you interested instead of bored like most books. so i fully recommend this book to every one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Searles has created a second successful novel. STRANGE BUT TRUE is anything but 'strange', it is mesmerizing! It is a story of lives affected by events at and following a high school graduation Prom. Ronnie Chase, girlfriend Melissa, her twin sister Tracy, and date Chaz hire a limousine to deliver them to and from the Inn where the celebration is held. Philip Chase is living with his mother Charlene in the Pennsylvania suburbs, while recuperating from a fall off a balcony of his New York City apartment. Melissa phones Philip and Charlene then pays them a visit, first since five years past. The news she has to deliver stuns Philip and receives a venomous reaction from Charlene. Melissa is nine months pregnant. Through visitations to a psychic and in answer to her prayers, Melissa believes the conception is Ronnie's baby. She has only had sexual intercourse one time with one person and that is Ronnie Chase on the night of the Prom. However, Ronnie died almost five years ago. He was killed in a tragic accident when the limousine crashed into a thick oak tree on the return trip taking the foursome home. The limo driver had a high level of alcohol in his system. Full of loneliness and sadness, Melissa is estranged from her parents, living in a cottage, and has received a notice to vacate because of unpaid rent. Landlords Gail and Bill Erwin appear to be happily married, even though Gail has been disappointed in a few previous marriages and Bill is an ex-policeman who was asked to leave his job. Richard Chase, Ronnie's father, and second wife Holly live in Florida. Richard harbors a secret from the past. Charlene is an embittered ex-wife and mother grieving for her dead son. Along with Ronnie's 1979 Mercedes in the garage, Charlene keeps Ronnie's bedroom locked enshrined like a museum. Formerly a librarian, Charlene visits the town library. As she steps into the lobby, 'she is overcome by one simple thing: the smell of books.' Philip loves reading and writing poetry. He has always known that his brother was the favored son. He overheard a conversation in which Charlene said '¿ the wrong son died'. Searles delivers poetic essence in STRANGE BUT TRUE. In one instance he writes, 'The wind¿ has died off, leaving the woods around the three small houses in a perfect hush.' With intended humor, the author also writes of Charlene speaking to Philip, '¿watching too much TV will make your brain rot'. Searles's style of storytelling encourages readers to linger from beginning to end uniquely blending chapters with the past and the present . The author gives credence to main and sideline characters assigning each a burden of trials, tribulations, and disappointments. STRANGE BUT TRUE is an avid reader's treasure full of astounding surprises. Personification of the cast members is uniquely filled with happiness and sadness, anger and forgiveness, loss and gain, hatred and love, good and evil, but most of all - survival. A story that poetically embraces the emotions - puts a lump in the throat, a tug to the heart, and gives hope for the soul. Every book has a message -- STRANGE BUT TRUE speaks volumes!