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The Things We Wish Were True Paperback – September 1, 2016
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“The Things We Wish Were True is a brilliant glimpse into the realities of suburban life. Startling. Compelling. Redemptive. It’s the kind of story that makes us wonder how well we really know ourselves—much less our neighbors. Marybeth Whalen has a gift for turning over the pretty surfaces of life, finding the hidden things beneath, and then exposing them to the light. I found myself drawn in, unable to look away from these characters and their dark, tender, familiar lives. I utterly loved this novel.” —Ariel Lawhon, author of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and Flight of Dreams
“Marybeth Whalen has a gift for illuminating the dark corners of suburban life. The neighbor you think you know...but do you really? The couple with the seemingly perfect marriage...until the blinds are drawn. The Things We Wish Were True is a novel that explores the nuances of community and belonging, showing us the hope, pain, disappointments, and joy that exist behind the facades of a typical American subdivision. The characters are relatable and engaging, and you’ll find yourself pulling for them all, from the overwhelmed single dad to the hyper-responsible young girl to the lonely empty-nester or the divorcee forced to return home and face the past she’d vowed to outrun. Perceptive, astute, and oh-so-relatable, The Things We Wish Were True is a winner!” —Kim Wright, author of The Unexpected Waltz and The Canterbury Sisters
“With skill and compassion, Marybeth Whalen digs beneath the surface of a quiet suburban neighborhood to reveal its darker secret side. Full of unexpected twists and sympathetic, relatable characters, The Things We Wish Were True is both surprising and heartwarming and it's sure to have you examining your own peaceful neighborhood with new eyes.” —Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of Pretending to Dance
“The characters in The Things We Wish Were True may live in a small town, but their hearts are as big as all outdoors. Marybeth Whalen has created an ensemble cast whose lives intertwine and touch one another in moving and surprising ways. A generous, compassionate novel that will leave a warm glow long after the last page has been turned.” —Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The House on Primrose Pond
“The Things We Wish Were True masterfully blends dark, twisted secrets with a redemptive story about the power of community. As the families of Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, kick off summer at their neighborhood pool, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen peels back the layers of their past and present lives to reveal the underbelly of suburbia. A fabulous page-turner with the ending you want.” —Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of The Perfect Son
“The Things We Wish Were True is a story of startling truth revealed through the intricate lives of those we think we know. Profound. Perceptive. Marybeth Whalen knows how to braid together the seen and the unseen in a profound story that startles and enlightens. Readers will eagerly turn every page.” —Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author
“In The Things We Wish Were True, Marybeth Whalen has pulled off an impressive feat, an ever-shifting narrative through a neighborhood full of secrets. Each of these characters is compelling and fully realized, and the final twists and reveals left me breathless and, ultimately, at peace. An impressive achievement that you’ll want to put at the top of your to-read list.” —Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of Hidden and Fractured
“This novel had me hooked at its premise—a near tragedy unites a group of relative strangers at their community pool—and kept me gripped in its aftermath. Marybeth Mayhew Whalen digs deeply and expertly into the rich and fascinating subject of how well do we really know our neighbors—and the far-reaching impact of a split-second decision on an otherwise predictable day. Suspenseful and emotionally charged, and perfectly steeped in the combustible heat of a North Carolina summer, The Things We Wish Were True is a must-read for any season.” —Erika Marks, author of The Last Treasure
“Written from multiple contrasting perspectives, each with a unique and memorable voice, the various stories are full of depth and intertwined in unpredictable ways. This novel captures the destruction that can be caused by secrets and reveals the mysteries of the story piece by piece, keeping readers intrigued and eager to keep going until the shocking and emotional end.” —RT Book Reviews
“Whalen, director of the celebrated She Reads online book club...has crafted a compelling page-turner populated by characters we’ve all met and know in our everyday lives. Or do we? This book upends the myth of the American dream, examines the secrets that hide beneath the drapes of a typical neighborhood, and, ultimately, provides a compassionate testament to the power of community.” —Library Journal
“Whalen (The Bridge Tender, 2014) takes readers on a guided tour through the joys and the difficulties of small-town life. With compelling characters and deeply engaging story lines, The Things We Wish Were True is a compassionate look at the strength of the individual and the power of community.” —Booklist
Liz & Lisa Best Book of the Month Selection
About the Author
Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is the author of five previous novels and speaks to women’s groups around the United States. She is the cofounder of the popular women’s fiction site She Reads and is active in a local writers’ group. Marybeth and her husband, Curt, have been married for twenty-four years and are the parents of six children, ranging from young adult to elementary age. The family lives in North Carolina. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She is always at work on her next novel. You can find her at www.marybethwhalen.com or www.shereads.org.
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Top customer reviews
The story is told through multiple POV chapters of characters living in a close-knit suburban town - some of whom have never left and others who have had to return after years of being away. The chapters are short, slowly building up the story from various perspectives, and effectively ease the reader into the underlying mystery of the town and leave you wanting to keep reading the book to find out exactly what is going on. The characters are 3-dimensional, and their chapters noticeably differ in tone and writing style. I have been disappointed with some of the Kindle First books I've selected in the past because the writing was too bland and predictable, and good writing is very important to me. This book was well-written, pleasant, and a nice quick read.
Folks, this little book was a treasure, a journey sometimes pleasant, sometimes perilous, but always gripping, through a bucolic and almost too-good-to-be-true fictitious suburban enclave just outside the very real metropolis of Charlotte, NC. I can attest to the landscape's atmosphere conjured in deft, often lyrical prose by the author--I've been there and seen that back in the day, and it's real enough. Without trying, I believe you can actually smell the chlorine, hot asphalt, cut grass, and hear the sounds of kids at the pool, amplified by the concrete surround and the humid, breathless air.
Besides the setting, which in the author's hands is a character on its own, we see this small world through the shifting viewpoints of children and adults. Normally I'm not a fan of a multiplicity of such viewpoints from so many characters, but this time it worked for me. I found the necessary distinction between the adult women, Jencey, Zell, and Bryte, and the adult men, Lance and Everett, for example; they each had a voice, and each had secrets that colored those voices. Above all is Cailey, who sees more that summer than she wants to see and hears things she shouldn’t, and tries to understand. She speaks honestly, as a child, and not a miniature adult. That is difficult to portray with skill, I think.
I thought at first that the issue of “secrets” might mean this story would have something of the ominous thriller about it, but no. Not all secrets are scary, and not all lies are harmful. Yet there is enough here in the memories of the characters and in their intertwined lives during this particular early summer to keep the reader engaged. Don’t expect these short chapters that build towards a satisfying but in some ways unexpected conclusion to barrel along like a runaway train, leaving you exhausted in its wake. Instead the chapters and their resident characters will tug you gently at first, and then more insistently, until you get where you’re going. I think you will truly enjoy the trip.
And Cailey… well, she is quite special.
But it seems to me that on a deeper level it's a book about loss. The losses that all of us sustain as we go through life and must deal with as best we can. There are inevitable losses that creep up so quietly we don't see them coming and couldn't do anything about it if we did. Sometimes (ironically) our losses are a result of getting what we hoped and worked for. Bryte has longed to be a mother, but her achievement of that status brings an end to the freedom and satisfactions of her career. Zell and her husband have worked and sacrificed for years to raise their children and make them independent adults. Now they can enjoy their well-earned "Golden Years" but Zell has a sense of emptiness and would give anything to go back to the chaos of a young family. Be careful what you wish for.
There are the unspeakable losses that we know CAN happen. The end of a marriage. The death of a spouse or child. A severe, life-changing illness. We make bargains with God and do all the right things. I will eat a healthy diet, exercise, buy a car with a good safety rating, and never, ever let my children out of my sight. All worthwhile precautions, but then a shocking accident at the community pool reminds everyone that even the most stringent precautions don't always stave off tragedy.
And there are losses that take us completely off guard. Police. Lawyers. Embarrassed friends and neighbors. The sense that "things like this don't happen to people like us." Two women in Sycamore Glen have men in prison. One has a family and strong support system. One doesn't. Is loss easier if you've never known anything else or harder if you had a lot to lose?
What struck me forcibly was the lack of complacency. These women know that they lead enviable lives. They cling to what they have and try to deserve it. They are "good people." They look after each others' kids and walk the elderly neighbors' dogs. In a time of crisis, they even reach out to the neighborhood undesirables - the renters in the run-down house they call "the eyesore." It's awkward, but they do it. God love 'em.
This is very much a "woman's book" although one of the main characters is a man whose wife deserted him and their children. Typically, he gets much more sympathy and help than would be extended to a woman in the same situation. All woman believe that men are really the weak, helpless ones and men take full advantage of that belief.
It's also a very Southern book. The younger women sometimes lapse into "you guys" but they also say "a gracious plenty" and pepper their conversations with the polite Southern woman's disclaimer, "if you ask me." The nights are hot and the days are hotter and comfort food is a tomato sandwich on squishy white bread with lots of mayonnaise. Even the author's name is a tip-off. I grew up with Marybeths and Mary Lous and Mary Sues and Mary Carolines, but never a plain Mary. Southerners are great for embellishment. If you can't make something better, at least you can pretty it up. Sometimes it's a bit self-conscious in a "we're-Southern-aren't-we-cute way" but mostly it rings true.
I enjoyed this book. Some of the people and the situations are cliches, but cliches and stereotypes exist because there's some truth in them. While we all feel unique, there are only so many human possibilities. The teen queen whose adult life disappoints her. The shy wallflower who blossoms into a beauty but lacks confidence. The old people who envy the young ones' full lives and the young people who envy the old folk's freedom and financial security. The men and women who fall in love and don't live happily ever after. The misfits who make us uneasy and fearful. The losers who irritate us by making the same mistakes over and over. These are real, recognizable people.
This isn't a perfect book. Sometimes the author makes her points a little too carefully. Ideally, the characters should tell the story and the reader should interpret it. Still, the author created a cast of characters and made me want to finish the book and find out what happens to them. Isn't that what fiction is all about?