A debut novel which illustrates the tribulations and triumphs of raising an autistic child, Truestory by Catherine Simpson is simultaneously captivating, poignant and vivid. Living on a remote farm, Alice is forced to deal with Sam, her autistic son, Duncan, an emotionally estranged husband whose ventures plunge the family into chaos, and Larry, a travelling worker who inhabits the farm for a period of time to help Duncan with his latest enterprise of growing cannabis, and whose presence turns family life on its head. Simpson’s depictions of struggle, love, isolation and loss are the central themes which bring to life her characters and leave the reader yearning for more. Simpson’s lifelike and memorable descriptions similarly bring the words of her novel to life whereby, through the turn of a page, the reader becomes a part of Truestory’s striking and realistic world where anything can happen:
“I watched my jailor, Sam, all four feet five of him, straining with effort and concentration, his tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth as he drew a map of our world.”
Alice’s struggles with Sam are the events which drive Truestory. Sam’s pressing need for a rigid routine coupled with his odd habits and unpredictable behaviour have Alice (and the reader) constantly on edge and increasingly isolated. It is only with the arrival of Larry, a farmworker who her husband met at the pub and brought home to help with his cannabis production, that life begins to change for Alice. Larry is able to communicate with Sam in a way that Alice initially thought impossible and she becomes increasingly drawn to the former as a result. Whilst Truestory is certainly geared toward a universal audience, the morals depicted may be questionable for the younger reader. However, Simpson manages to mask this moral dubiety with the fact that her story and the portrayal of Alice’s struggles are wholly realistic to her situation. Simpson demonstrates that no one person is perfect and when pushed so far, any morals can and will often be discarded and that the human condition is one that is temperamental and often flawed. Consequently, Truestory encapsulates the struggles of a mother whose whole world is dominated by angst, fear and chaos.
The strengths of this novel really do lie in the realistic portrayal of Alice’s struggles. Having brought up a child with Asperger’s, Catherine Simpson has portrayed this struggle with a clear understanding of the condition, allowing for that coherent element of realism. Whilst the novel is narrated from Alice’s point of view, it also allows for an insight into Sam’s issues through his comical use of online chat rooms. Through this device, Simpson allows the reader to see inside the mind of Sam without focusing the story entirely from his perspective. Narrating the story through Alice allows for a broader scope of understanding of the bigger picture. Whilst parts of the story follow Alice doing the general mundane tasks of the general housewife, this realism does not slow the narrative down. There is always something happening, with characters constantly moving in and out of the house, and there is always something happening to pique the reader’s interest.
Truestory is a fast moving novel which constantly has the reader wondering what will happen next. It is unlike the conventional romance and has many twists and turns. If you are looking for a story which you can’t put down and won’t be able to predict the ending of, this is the perfect book for you. For a debut novel, Truestory is impressive. This novel leaves the reader with a craving for more. It is a wonderful and easy read that will leave an impression for a long time to come and I will certainly be looking out for further Catherine Simpson publications in the future.