Truth and Consequences: A Novel

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Over the years, Alison Lurie has earned a devoted readership for her satiric wit and storytelling acumen. With Truth and Consequences, described by the New Yorker as "a comedy of adultery with a comedy of academia thrown in," Lurie returns with a modern social satire that recalls the best of David Lodge and Mary McCarthy as well as her own popular university novels The War Between the Tates and Foreign Affairs. BACKCOVER: "A wily, shapely tale of love's labors lost."
-Elle

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Truth and Consequences: A Novel

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Overview

Over the years, Alison Lurie has earned a devoted readership for her satiric wit and storytelling acumen. With Truth and Consequences, described by the New Yorker as "a comedy of adultery with a comedy of academia thrown in," Lurie returns with a modern social satire that recalls the best of David Lodge and Mary McCarthy as well as her own popular university novels The War Between the Tates and Foreign Affairs. BACKCOVER: "A wily, shapely tale of love's labors lost."
-Elle

"A wry, insightful, thoroughly enjoyable tale about how men and women choose their demons and their lovers, and the sacrifices they're willing to make for both."
-The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Delightful . . . Her characters are, as always, wonderfully imperfect."
-The New York Review of Books

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Whereas The War Between the Tates nimbly captured the emotional weather of the late 1960's and early 70's, Ms. Lurie's new book, Truth and Consequences, doesn't even try to give the reader a big picture window on the way we live today. Still, it provides two engaging central characters…And the story motors along smoothly on sheer professional craft. The result isn't a terribly original or memorable novel, but a pleasant enough read nonetheless.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Lurie's various academic romances, set against the backdrop of a thinly veiled Cornell University, point in a straight line to tragicomic double-think relationship writers like Lorrie Moore. This latest foray begins promisingly: Jane MacKenzie fails to recognize her own husband, Alan, as he approaches their house from a distance, so bent and changed is he by his aching back. He's an architecture professor (expert on Victoriana); she's a university administrator. When visiting poet Delia Delaney takes up residence, it's Jane who has to attend to her diva-like demands, while simultaneously trying to cope with an incapacitated Alan. Once he's up and around, though, sexy and selfish Delia toys with, then seduces him. The affair gives Alan a midlife lift, and, on discovery, gives Jane a reason to leave him, perhaps for Henry, Delia's ombudsman husband and Jane's highly organized mirror-image. The problem is that Lurie, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Foreign Affairs is everything this isn't, doesn't seem much interested in fleshing out her characters' romps. Remedial repetitions of basic facts, character descriptions and plot points throughout give the proceedings a strangely clinical feel, as if her characters' reactions were too base to engage with fully: they are reported almost dutifully, though not without offhand flashes of crackly brilliance. 5-city author tour. (Oct. 10) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel Foreign Affairs, Lurie looks at what can happen when two couples, each seemingly well matched, find themselves at different places in their lives. Jane and Alan Mackenzie, residents of a fictional college town, had what seemed to be the perfect marriage until Alan suffers a back injury that changes his life and demeanor. Jane, feeling obliged by her wedding vows, becomes his overworked and underappreciated caregiver. But then the beautiful and conniving Delia Delany, a visiting scholar, picks Alan as her next conquest. Enjoying the attentions of someone he sees as finally understanding his pain, Alan willingly follows her. Meanwhile, finding themselves caught in the crossfire of the affair, Jane and Delia's oft-overlooked husband, Henry Hull, are driven together and wind up falling in love. Lurie explores what happens when the truth isn't always told and the consequences of our every choice. Engrossing and wonderfully written, this novel would make a good book club selection. Highly recommended, especially where Lurie's other books are popular. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Leann Restaino, Girard, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A once-happy marriage jumps the tracks when a charismatic writer accepts a fellowship at the small college in upstate New York where both husband and wife work. Jane and Alan Mackenzie are a model couple. He is a 51-year-old professor of architecture and expert on Victorian-era follies (the faux ruins of stone towers and hermitages Britain's landed gentry built to enhance their estates); she, 11 years younger, is a quietly in-charge college bureaucrat who runs a program for visiting scholars. Told in alternating chapters from the perspective of husband and wife, the novel charts the disintegration of their marriage, which initially begins to fray when a minor injury on a volleyball court-Alan admits he was showing off for the younger faculty-segues into chronic back pain. Their home life becomes a hellish stand-off between need and resentment. While Jane is stepping and fetching for her husband in her off hours-prescriptions for pain killers, packs of ice, heating pads, more pillows-her day job as administrator is transformed by the arrival of Delia Delaney, renowned writer and unrepentant id-on-wheels. Only Delia's long-suffering husband Henry knows how demanding she can be: She needs a sofa for her office. Less light. Fewer visitors. A deadbolt on her door. Silence! Jane and Henry find they are on common ground as helpmates-and commiserate with one another, complicating Jane's self-image as a "good" person. Alan and Delia also discern they have much in common. Delia, who suffers from migraines, helps Alan own his pain, find his inner artist and resurrect his sexuality. Pulitzer Prize-winner Lurie (The Last Resort, 1998, etc.) is a keen observer of consciences in conflict. There arepassages here (though too few) that remind the reader of her considerable artistic authority. But the characters rarely act outside selfish motives, and in the end, who cares who ends up with whom? They all deserve each other. A tepid affair by an author capable of incandescence.
From the Publisher
“A wry, insightful, thoroughly enjoyable tale about how men and women choose their demons and their lovers, and the sacrifices they’re willing to make for both.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Delightful . . . Her characters are, as always, wonderfully imperfect.” —The New York Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670034390
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 10/6/2005
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Lurie

Alison Lurie is the author of many highly praised novels, including The War Between the Tates, The Truth About Lorin Jones (Prix Femina Etranger), and Foreign Affairs (Pulitzer Prize for fiction). Her most recent book was Familiar Spirits. She teaches writing, folklore, and literature at Cornell University.

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    1. Hometown:
      Ithaca, New York; London, England; Key West, Florida
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 3, 1926
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Education:
      A.B., Radcliffe College, 1947

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

In her first novel in seven years, long-time professor at Cornell University Alison Lurie returns to her favored setting, the college campus. A true social satire, Truth and Consequences creates a battle of the sexes to examine the complex connection between what a woman wants from a man and vice versa, and what happens when that singular pairing begins to sour.

Jane Mackenzie has always prided herself on being good. "A good girl, a good woman, a good wife," she remembers. But when her husband, Alan, a handsome and charming Corinth University professor and successful expert in architectural history, is crippled by a back injury, her virtue is seriously tested. For the first fifteen months of Alan's illness, the situation is bearable. "But now she was tired of being wonderful, and Alan, she suspected, was tired of being grateful," Jane thinks to herself as she once again attempts to escape to her garden, away from her home—and her husband. Alan has transformed into an overweight, bitter man, racked with pain and despair. Jane is nearly unable to recognize the man she married, whom she once thought of as her knight in shining armor. Fighting devastating feelings of guilt and self-hatred for no longer being that good wife she had always aspired to be, Jane begins to look at her once fulfilling marriage as choked with weeds, much like her own garden, neglected due to the tremendous time and energy spent caring for Alan.

Discouraged and uninterested in doing much else but lie on the sofa or doodle follies—miniature ruins of great works of architecture—in his sketchbook, Alan unwittingly falls under the spell of Delia Delaney, the most renowned of the visiting fellows at the university's Matthew Unger Center for the Humanities. A wide-eyed Botticelli vision with a wreath of long, curly red-gold hair, Delia brings to Corinth not only her great reputation as a writer of Southern Gothic folk tales, but a following of swooning, bohemian fans, a failed-poet husband, Henry Hull, and a propensity to take ill seemingly lifted from What Katy Did. As her husband, Henry, slyly observes, Delia's migraines come on "when she's under stress, or when she doesn't get what she wants." However, in Alan's eyes, Delia is nothing short of perfection, or at least everything that Jane is not. While Jane is unsupportive of his sketches, Delia goes so far as to find Alan an agent. While Jane is conventional and familiar, Delia is glamorous and dramatic. As Alan becomes more and more obsessed with Delia, Jane can no longer ignore the affair. Rather than play the socially acceptable role of scorned woman, Jane begins to extract her life from her husband's needs, and begins a tentative affair of her own—with Delia's husband, Henry.

Alternating points of view so adeptly that each character can appear at once sympathetic and ridiculous, archetypical and poignantly individual, Lurie has created a thoroughly modern comedy that discovers just what Jane Austen would have written were she reborn as David Lodge. Despite Lurie's examination of darker themes—egoism, jealousy, adultery, illness—Truth and Consequences not only allows readers to recognize these qualities in themselves but also offers the chance to laugh at such perennial human weaknesses.

"There is no American writer I have read with more consistent pleasure and sympathy over the years," John Fowles has remarked about Lurie. With this surprisingly fierce and funny novel, Lurie has created one of her finest works, destined to join the ranks of her popular university novels, The War Between the Tates and Foreign Affairs.

ABOUT ALISON LURIE

Alison Lurie is the author of many novels, including The War Between the Tates, The Truth About Lorin Jones (winner of the Prix Femina Étranger), Foreign Affairs (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and The Last Resort. Her most recent book was Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter. She teaches writing, folklore, and literature at Cornell University and divides her time between Ithaca, New York, and Key West, Florida.

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALISON LURIE

Many of your most beloved novels take place on the college campus, The War Between the Tates probably being the best known. As a professor, it is a place you know best, but what else about that setting attracts you?

A college campus is a relatively small, self-contained community that is also ever-changing as students and staff arrive and leave, so it's an ideal background for a novel.

Joyce Carol Oates has said about you, "One can read Lurie as one might read Jane Austen, with continual delight." This is nothing short of a glowing compliment, but how do you feel about the comparisons to Jane Austen? Is there something about her work that you like to emulate in your own? Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel?

I am deeply flattered by being compared to Jane Austen, but of course I do not consider myself her equal. I would like to have her wit, her understanding of how society and individual psychology work, and her detached sympathy with all her characters. I love all her novels—Mansfield Park perhaps less than the others.

In 1985, you won the Pulitzer Prize for your novel Foreign Affairs. What was your reaction upon hearing the news then, and how has your feeling about winning the prize changed—if at all—over the course of the last twenty years?

Luck as well as talent plays a part in the Pulitzer Prize, and I feel very lucky to have received it. However, as Philip Roth said to me later, one thing you know after this happens is that the headline on your obituary will read PULITZER WINNER DIES.

Truth and Consequences is your first novel in seven years. Why did you turn away from fiction for a time? What did your work in memoir (Familiar Spirits) and essay (Boys and Girls Forever) provide that fiction did not?

I write fiction only when I have a story that needs to be told. After The Last Resort I did not have a really good idea for a novel, but I wanted to remember my friends James Merrill and David Jackson, so I wrote the memoir Familiar Spirits, and there were things I wanted to say, or had said, about children's books, so I published Boys and Girls Forever.

Alan Mackenzie comments, "Key West is overrun with homeless chickens and feral six toed cats, and drugs, and drunken writers and crazy motorcyclists, and the local government is completely corrupt." As you make your home in Key West part of the year, do you find this to be true of the island? What other views of Key West accord with your experience?

This is Alan Mackenzie's view of the island, not mine. He has never been there, so he is unaware of Key West's many attractions, among which are the free-range chickens and cats.

The character Delia Delaney is particularly vivid. Was the very colorful Delia based on any one person, or was she a composite sketch of writers you've encountered throughout your career? How much backstory do you plan for each character before you begin writing?

One of my mother's best friends when I was growing up was a Southern woman writer who (though she was married all her life to the same man) had some of the characteristics of Delia, including her self-confidence, her original view of the world, and her ability to charm almost every man, woman, or child she met. A character more closely based on her appears in my novel Only Children. I usually make several pages of notes on every major character before I start to write.

You've written eleven books of fiction. Can you describe your writing process for your novels? Has it changed much through the years? How does it differ from how you would approach a memoir, essay, or nonfiction piece?

I have published ten novels and a collection of stories, Women and Ghosts. I usually write for three or four hours a day, but some of this is rewriting—there may be five or six drafts of every novel. The main change in my method is that though I still write the first draft in longhand, I then type it onto the computer, print it out, work on the printout again in longhand, type the changes onto the computer, print it out, etc. etc. I follow the same process with nonfiction.

Your husband, Edward Hower, is also a writer. Do you find it challenging to be married to a fellow author?

It is wonderful to be married to another writer, if he is as sympathetic and supportive as my husband, and also, like him, a good critic.

What are you working on now? Will we have to wait another seven years for your next novel?

I am currently working on a companion to my nonfiction book The Language of Clothes: it will probably be called The Language of Houses. I may never write another novel, but you never know—this is what I have thought after each one.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • One of the most striking characteristics of the novel Truth and Consequences is how each character's perception of himself and of those around him varies wildly. While Henry Hull sees Jane as beautiful, Alan has in the last few years regarded Jane as plain and dowdy. Alan believes Delia is a goddess, and Jane sees her as a manipulative old woman. Which character is the most magnanimous in his or her opinions of the others? And which character's suspicions of another prove to be ultimately correct?
     
  • Jane remembers that in the nineteenth-century novels of her youth, "Pain . . . could be ennobling and inspiring." Delia imagines that the pain of her migraines is "bringing me something I need" to be an artist. Alan is skeptical of both perspectives, choosing the dictum "It's not fair" to describe his feelings about his back pain. How each character copes with illness, their own or that of others, varies throughout Truth and Consequences. Who do you think has the most appropriate response to the concept of pain? What aspect of each character's personality informs the way they react?
     
  • Truth and Consequences uses the events of September 11, 2001, as a backdrop for much of the action. Each character has a very different take on this tragedy. For example, Jane frets over how Alan's art seems like "a joke about the World Trade Center." How does 9/11 affect each of the characters? Why does everyone react to this tragedy in such a different way? Do you think the use of 9/11 is an effective addition to this story?
     
  • In Truth and Consequences, quite a few animal images are evoked throughout the book—for example, the brown and red lizard that Alan imagines is living within his spine. What was the author attempting to convey by selecting this particular animal? Why do you think Alan chose to assign an image to his back pain?
     
  • "Delia hasn't really taken in anything that has happened after she left the mountains of West Virginia. Her life there was so intense, so violent, so primitive," comments the critic L. D. Zimmern in Truth and Consequences. While it is never clearly stated just what had happened to Delia during her childhood, there are hints throughout the book. Can you piece together the events of her childhood? How did these experiences inform her very unusual personality?
     
  • Delia believes artists can never be happy. Historically, many of those who work in creative fields tend to be afflicted by mental illness, or commit suicide. Why do you think that is?
     
  • Why does Henry stay with Delia even after he discovers they are not legally married? What ties him to her? Jane also returns to Alan, even after she exposes his affair with Delia. Why do you think she does so?
     
  • Which affair do you consider to be more longstanding, the relationship between Delia and Alan, or Jane and Henry? Who cheated first—physically and emotionally?
     
  • At the very end of the novel, Alan and Delia meet again. His last words to Delia are, "Who are you, Dilly, what are you? Are you a demon come to tempt me to sin?" If that is the case, Delia is the second demon to visit Alan in the novel, the first being the lizard. Why, if Alan is an atheist, does he so often evoke religious imagery throughout the book? Do you think the nature of faith changes with regard to illness?
     
  • The title Truth and Consequences can be applied to many situations within the novel, the most obvious being Alan's deceitfulness about his relationship with Delia and Jane's subsequent desertion. What other situations within the book reflect that phrase? Why do you think the author chose that title for this work?
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2006

    okay but could have been better

    This book is hard to get started, but becomes an easy read. The characters go through some change, but the depth doesn't go very far. The author doesn't let the characters grow enough and as a result, I knew what the ending of the story was about 1/2-3/4 through the book. This is an okay read, but your time could be better spent on a better book.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    AN UNDERSTATED YET COMPELLING READING

    Pulitzer Prize winner Alison Lurie once again sets her sights and satiric pen on scholarly saints and sinners by placing 'Truth and Consequences' in a university community. Lurie, as many know, teaches writing, folklore and literature at Cornell University. However, Jane MacKenzie, her protagonist, is not a teacher but an administrator and a good, faithful wife. She and Alan, a professor, have been happily wed for many years. They're a couple most would envy - intellectual, well positioned in life, and secure. Their well ordered existence begins to crumble when Alan develops a back problem. It becomes so debilitating that his career suffers and Jane finds herself becoming his nurse. Sad to say it isn't a miracle of medicine that seems to cure Alan's back but the solicitations of newly arrived Delia Delaney, a beautiful best-selling novelist. She, in turn, is married to Henry who eventually finds himself attracted to Jane. What a pleasure it is to hear about the romps and relationships among the intelligentsia as related in the stage trained voice of Jamie Heinlen. She often appears in New York theater, a training that is evident in her understated yet compelling performance. Heinlen effortlessly glides between the comic and the desperate treating listeners to a bravura reading. - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2005

    Shallow is as Shallow Does

    This is a tale of lifestyles, egos, self-absorption and shallowness. It starts as a story of a happy couple who have exactly what they bargained for. A satifying life playing roles that are not too deep or meaningful to themselves or each other. They each have talent, in their own way, and tolerate each other until the 'reality' of one having to give, while the other takes becomes a barrier to growth. While each one was limited in how much energy had to be expended in their relationship, all was well. When one becomes a special concern and requires looking after, the entire marriage crumbles. You get a glimpse at how it is to live up to an 'image' and how that image permeates one's existance even more than everyday life. For some, as long as we appear to be who we planned to become, all is well. When change is required and there is nothing beneath the surface, things will change. What is very rewarding in this story is that we all get exactly what we deserve no matter how we feel. Water does seek its own level and these characters are absorbed into other lives with the same amount of falseness and shallow thinking they deserve.

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    Posted December 7, 2009

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