The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780063057272
Hardcover, $27.99, 322 pages
Sometimes you read a book, and you know its going to be one that you will tell everyone about it, until they ask you to please stop. Nancy Johnson's debut novel, The Kindest Lie, is one of those.
Ruth Tuttle is a Yale-educated Black engineer at a consumer packaged goods company. She's married to Xavier, a high-level executive at PespiCo. They live in Chicago, and are celebrating the election of Barack Obama with their friends.
Life is good, and when Xavier talks of now starting a family with Ruth, she balks. Ruth never told her husband that when she was seventeen, she gave birth to a baby. Her grandmother and older brother Eli took the baby and gave him up for adoption. Ruth left for Yale and it was never spoken of again.
Ruth returns home to Indiana, to her hometown of Ganton, whose "very soil was a trapdoor, a gateway to nothingness that few people climbed out of." The author paints a vivid picture of Ganton in that one sentence. The town relied on one big industry, a car manufacturing plant, and when that plant closed, the entire town was decimated.
When Ruth stops into a local small store owned by her grandmother's best friend Lena, a white woman, she meets Midnight, Lena's eleven year-old grandson. Midnight's arm was disfigured, and he "stood on the outside of things, bitter, chafed by the unfairness of life". His mother died giving birth to his sister, who also died. His father lost his job at the plant, and spent his time drinking, so Midnight lived mostly with his grandmother.
Ruth feels a kinship with Midnight. She and her brother were raised by her grandparents, her mother had a drug problem and left, she never knew her father. Ruth's grandparents sacrificed much to send Ruth to Yale, knowing that she could be successful if she left Ganton.
Confronting her grandmother and brother about what happened to her baby does not go well for Ruth. They insist that they did what was best for all involved, and tell her to leave it alone, but she is determined to find her son.
The story is told from the viewpoints of Ruth and Midnight. The author succeeds in putting the reader in their shoes, these two characters who have lived such different lives, yet share so much. You feel deeply for everyone, that they are doing the best they can. It is a gift that Nancy Johnson can allow the reader to see each character's side of the story.
The Kindest Lie is a heartbreaking, beautifully written novel that tackles secrets, race, class and gives us insight into what happens when a small town's industry disappears, the myriad of ways it destroys people. It is a richly developed story, with so much humanity contained within its pages. I think everyone can relate to something in this book. When I can't stop thinking about these characters, I know that I have read something profound that touched me deeply. I give The Kindest Lie my highest recommendation, and encourage everyone to read this book.