Terry Trueman always guarantees a good read. A few years ago, I read his Inside Out, an extremely short novel whose protagonist, a teenage boy in need of his antipsychotic meds, gets caught up in a hold-up-turned-hostage-situation. There wasn’t a word wasted in that spare and gripping narrative. I immediately went on to Stuck in Neutral, a first-person narrative from the point of a teenager who suffers from cerebral palsy. He’s wheelchair bound, unable to communicate with the world around him, and believes his father wishes to end his “misery.” Though less kinetically plotted than the earlier novel, Stuck in Neutral is no less compelling.
So it’s crazy that I then took so long to read another by Trueman. The guy is a genius at getting to the heart of the story without wasting any words. Within a few pages, the immediately likeable narrator of No Right Turn has told us that his father committed suicide three years before while his son was the only one in the house, and that he, the son, went into a kind of spiral of social isolation ever since. It’s kind of dizzying how quickly Trueman gets us into the story, especially as he manages along the way to let us feel completely comfortable with Jordan as a person. The rest of the elements of the plot — a beautiful car just aching to be stolen, a beautiful girl who might just be able to draw Jordan out of his self-imposed interior exile — slide into place quickly.
I might be making this sound facile: it isn’t. Trueman puts his story and his character through enough twists and trials to do a lesser writer for two or three hundred pages, but he manages it all in much less — and that’s with a pretty large font — and he still manages to give us some well-drawn characters.
Some people would think of these as issue books: psychosis, cerebral palsy, suicide. And it’s true that the author said about Stuck in Neutral, for instance, that he wrote it in part to educate about cerebral palsy, from which his son suffers. But something about the honesty of the first person narratives in these books lifts them above the usual moralistic lessons in disguise that are issue books. Trueman’s website lists Charles Bukowski as a hero, and though that writer’s work is not at all to my taste, I can see his influence in a positive way here, a kind of raw, scrupulous what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude that smolders inside the prose.
One further indication that Trueman is a fine writer: I am thoroughly bored by cars, and yet he held my attention in a novel that primarily features the stealing of an [insert-some-year-here-I-really-don’t-care] Corvette by a teenager from a classic-car enthusiast who likes to talk about what a great machine it is. And I kept reading.
And will again.