Here is an initially sharp social satire set in a city where you must tell the truth and lies are against the law. The authorities have literally scared lying out of the population. The book starts hilariously with the citizens of Veritas telling it like it is - ending letters with "yours up to a point" and eating at a restaurant called Booze Before Breakfast. It turns out that Veritas is really obsessed with empiricism (based only on observation and rules) rather than the much deeper "truths" of life. Morrow brings up this point very briefly in chapter 5, but unfortunately fails to expand on this intriguing theme. After that brief insight, the book becomes nonsensical and melodramatic, as the main character escapes to the secret city of Satirev to deal with the real truth about his son's fatal illness. The city of Satirev, in which people are allowed to lie but ultimately are more truthful, is a ridiculous construct that is hard to take seriously, while the story devolves into sentimentality rather than the sharp social observation that was hinted at earlier. Morrow's examination of the real meaning of truth, even if lying is necessary to achieve it, ultimately does not materialize even though he was really onto something big for a while.
on May 9, 2004
"City of Truth" is really two short stories, three if you count the brief final section. Each section is almost worth its own review, because they are so different.
City I is a description of a society where people have perfect honesty literally burned into their brains. It's incredibly funny because it contrasts so completely with our own feel-good consumer society. Politicians candidly admit that they accepted kick-backs; a salesperson tells you where to buy an item more cheaply from a competitor; restaurants sell "murdered cow" sandwiches with "wilted lettuce."
The odd thing is that the city is rather a flat, cold place. Parents critique their kids' drawings ("It's pretty ugly.") and romance is replaced by the brutal, hurtful truth. After a while, you long for someone to say "Have a nice day!" with a big smile, instead of truthfully expressing their complete indifference.
City II describes a rebel group which teaches people to lie again. The treatment involves exposing disciples to genetically-engineered impossibilities: pigs that fly, dogs that talk. Why this is supposed to help isn't entirely clear, but it enables a father to tell "kind lies" to his terminally sick child. The problem is that the boy can see that his father is lying: This is one case where honesty would be the best policy. City II is a real tear-jerker.
City III has the family leaving both the Truth Tellers and the Liars and settling for the kind of messy mix that we have: trying to tell the truth as far as possible, but making space for poetic license and white lies. That's fair enough, but there are no revelations here. Most of us feel this way already.
Consider the five stars all for the first section and well worth them.
on April 6, 2000
City of Truth is an amazing study of one of the most important issues our society and every member of our society faces, the issue of honesty. James Morrow presents a model of a city, Utopian city where its inhabitants are conditioned to tell the truth. For the author, it is a perfect opportunity to speculate on the origins and bases of our behavior; specifically he adresses the questions of why should we be honest? When is it acceptable or right to tell a lie? Should we decide or even have such an opportunity to determine whether to tell the truth or to lie? For the reader, the novel presents an absolute answer that dishonesty is never justified.
The exaggeration and satire skillfully applied to the fantastic City of Truth, carefully reveal the faults and contoroversies of our own society. The society where controversies and disputes are reduced to slogans, the society where we often express the need to be lied to, the society where we tolerate and even promote dishonesty. James Morrow attacks the issue by comparing the two sides of the argument. He presents two worlds-the "proper" world of truth and the underground, the opposing factor-the world of illusion or dishonesty. Both worlds are extreme-the City of Truth wouldn't tolerate art, poetry, imagintion, it is almost brutal and simple. On the other hand, the underground city is not necessarily the city where one lies all the time, but it is a city of illusion where dream and fantasy preveils. It is a city where the borderline between reality and imagination has been shed. But there is also a neutral world, a world where father is conditioned to tell the truth; he does so in reference to every aspect of his life except his son.
Thus, all of the sides of the argument are presented to the judgement of the author and he chooses one side for the reader. The father finally reveals the fact of the incurable disease and death approaching to his son. Toby's condition did not improve as a result of his father's confession. The truth removed his anxiety, uncertainty, fear and frustration; his death was "humane," that is he knew what had happen to him, he could take responsibility for his words and his interactions with others. All the "wishful thinkers" and "positive influences" and "support groups" as well as the shower of presents and smiles in this case were just a safety device. This fence of comfort and stability was ment not as much for Toby as it was for his father.
At the end, the author offers a solution for the issues presented. Although we should have a choice of whether to lie or to tell the truth, it is never right to lie. Our dishonesty comes from the need of comfort, safety, and acceptance. Lying is often an illusion, facade, and cover with which we separate ourselves from the outside world and its problems; it is often the result of ignorance or pure lazinesss that we choose to lie. Being honest is challenging but it can be done, and it can only be done by free choice.
on January 23, 2007
Everyone goes through a stage of frustration with society's inherent dishonesty. In "City of Truth", James Morrow shows us that the alternative may prove even worse. The city of Veritas has strict prohibitions against any form of dishonesty, and each citizen is subjected to electroshock treatment during their teenage years to wean them off disengenuousness. The result is inevitable: people drive Ford Sufficients and threaten their neighbors with Smith&Wesson Metapenises; they leave their children at Camp Ditch-the-Kids and burn the works of great poets for excessive use of metaphors. The opening section of the book is the funniest part, with Morrow throwing out these one-liners fast and furious. Unfortunately there needs to be a plot. The protagonist learns that his son has contracted a fatal virus. His only hope for survival is to be buoyed by a misleading prognosis, thereby giving him the will to survive. Hence our hero embarks to Satirev, the city of lies, where pigs do fly and the Pope really is Jewish. Further adventures down there show him that lies also leave a great deal to be desired. All in all, a decently funny and appropriately short social satire.
on July 19, 1998
The above falsity(Pigs can fly!) could not be said in the City of Truth. For it is a lie. And lies are irreproachable in the City of Truth. Imagine being a politician in a city that won't allow it's citizens to lie. Imagine telling a pretty looking young woman you just met that you'd like to make love to her before you even had the chance to ask her name. In a city that does not lie nothing is sacred.
James Morrow is an excellent storyteller to be sure. His novel is funny, touching, and often absurd. The first half was better than the second half, but overall I'd recommend this delightful little book. Give Morrow's book "Only Begotten Daughter" a shot too, it's quite good. He's funny, his characters are interesting, but more importantly he spins one heck of a good yarn.
on January 30, 2000
This is an excellent short book. Almost too short, in fact. Readers will be intrigued, though not charmed, by the bulk of Morrow's characters, particularly the protagonist, as they wander through what seems, on the surface, a truth-seeker's paradise. Morrow's wry sense of humor is evident throughout (particularly in his product names), but his deep-thinking message comes through -- maybe truth isn't always the best policy. If you enjoyed "Towing Jehovah," but were disturbed by Morrow's darkness, you will find this book delightful. If you're looking for gloom-and-doom Morrow, don't bother... this book actually has positive redemption for some of its characters.
on May 23, 2002
To tell the truth, I loved this book. It's a candidly funny story about a future dystopia in which everyone has been 'conditioned' to always tell the truth. The resulting society has notices in elevators that say "This elevator maintained by people who hate their jobs. Ride at your own risk." and so forth. A truly imaginitive and funny book. Five stars. And that's the truth... [insert raspberry]
on November 17, 1999
James Morrow has created a society in which all citizens have been painfully conditioned to tell only the absolute truth. The main character, Jack Sperry, a citizen of Veritas, the City of Truth, has lived his thirty-eight years in this controlled environment. He has attained his boyhood dream of being a critic through his present job as a deconstructionist, at which he spends his days destroying the art and literature left over from the Age of Lies. Jack is married to Helen and they have a seven year old son named Toby. All in all, Jack is reasonably happy with his life unttil Toby is bitten by a rabbit at Camp Ditch-the-Kids and contracts a fatal disease. In spite of his conditioning against sentimentality and feelings, saving Toby becomes the most important thing in Jack's life. He will do whatever he can to keep his son alive, even to the extent of giving up his own way of life.
The concept of living in a society, which so highly prizes the truth, is refreshing. The truth in advertising product names are especially humorous e.g., Plymouth Adequate and Ford Sufficient. Personal relationships also operate on a totally different level as men and women speak candidly to each other even to discussing their sexual desires. With his creation of Veritas, Morrow is able to give us a realistic and humorous look at our commercially driven economy. He also uses his characters Jack and Toby to remind us of what is even more valuable than truth, namely, our love for each other.
This wry and gentle science fiction novella is mostly a parable about truth and its application. In the city of Veritas, eveyone goes through a coming of age rite which involves elctroshock conditioning (a la "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest" or "A Clockwork Orange") to both remove the ability to lie and the implant the need to tell the entire truth. This makes for a fairly amusing setting in which products bear truthful names such as "Ford Sufficient, " how-to books bear such itles as "You Can Have Somewhat Better Sex," and summer camp is "Camp Ditch-the-Kids." Personal conflict seems to be more or less non-existant as everyone tells the truth and no one gets offended by it. The actual story is about Jack Sperry, an art deconstructionist and his son Toby, who catches an incurable disease. Jack's job involves examining works of art and literature from the past, ie. the "Age of Lies," and physically destroying those that represent things that aren't true, such as winged angels. Jack has read of the "healing power of the positive thinking," and wants to try it with Toby. However, since such a course of treatment is not based on anything factual, and involves lying to Toby, he must find the secret communicty of "dissemblers," who have somehow overcome their conditioning and secretly live among the normal people. This eventually leads Jack to theliteral underground of Satirev (Veritas backward, get it?), where pigs do fly, money grows on trees, and soforth. The part spent in this phantasmagoria is decidely less amusing or interesting than the city of Veritas, which is richer territory for mockery. In the end, Morrow's tale comes to the somewhat mawkish conlusion that while eveyone should have the freedom to choose whether to lie or not, only the truth can really set you free.
on July 20, 2014
Though I know City of Truth to be a novella, and though I am familiar with many of Morrow's other stories, this one was not quite enough for me. Good short stories and novellas drop readers into the middle of characters' lives, and show merely a significant episode in their lives, and here is no different.
However, my issues with this particular story deal with the uneven tone, the all-too-flat characters (especially the women of the story and even the boy), and the overall emptiness that I felt when it was over.
The worlds created by Morrow have never been a problem, and here, the cities of Veritas and Satirev (I get it, Satire with a V....Witty), are teasingly realized. However, these cities feel a bit uninspired and unrealized. Veritas feels like Harrison Bergeron's America, while Satirev is closest to the outside-the-city-limits community revealed in the finale of Fahrenheit 451 with an absurdest twist.
The ground covered in this story is not new, which is okay, but without sympathetic, memorable characters, a stylistically stunning tone, or more-fully realized settings, this one is a (slightly) overrated Nebula Award Winner, good for a quick read, but does not rise to the level of some of Morrow's better works.