Gary Fisketjon — Working with Jim Lynch, Part II

Concluding his musings on working with Jim Lynch is Alfred A. Knopf editor Gary Fisketjon. Remember: Jim Lynch will be joining us the store on Thursday, April 12, at 7pm, to launch his newest novel, Truth Like the Sun, set within the fascinations and wonder of the Century 21 Exposition, 1962. To learn more about the fair itself, be sure and check out Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein’s book, The Future Remembered.

GARY FISKETJON: It’s clear to me that one of Jim’s chief interests is the potency of change. In The Highest Tide, Miles encounters an historic high tide; in Border Songs, Brandon sees his quiet borderland transformed by the specters of drug smuggling and terrorism.

Library of the Future exhibit
photo courtesy MOHAI

Here, in Truth Like the Sun, Helen’s future is imperiled as her paper is beginning to feel the pinch of the Internet that soon afterward altered reading habits everywhere and made the very profession seem almost provisional.

It isn’t, obviously, but I greatly admire how Jim catches this game-changing phenomenon just as it’s emerging. Hey, this affects all of us, and he makes us realize this as we see Helen maneuver the shifting landscape of her work. Should they play tough in order to rout the competition and boost circulation or be careful to make sure of every last fact before printing a word? Is it a question of a business’ survival or ethics and even truth?

Bubbleator
photo courtesy The Seattle Times

All this becomes palpable when Roger hones into Helen’s sights. One of her first assignments is to summarize the World’s Fair on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary—something that bores the hell out of her until Roger, the mastermind behind it, becomes front-page news with his mayoral campaign. Suddenly this is the sort of story that is her heart’s desire, complete with juicy graft, police corruption and murder as well as the chance to prove how those in power are—as she tends to believe—scoundrels whose malfeasance she was put on earth to uncover.

But to Jim’s great credit, Roger Morgan’s far too grand a character to fit into any of the available categories, whether Doddering Old Fool or Shady Power Broker. He’s a man in full, including warts and hopes and compromises, and in my view he’s a fitting counterpoint to Willie Stark (aka Huey Long) in Robert Penn Warren’s classic All the King’s Men.

A third major character, of course, is Seattle itself, as notable denizens have already recognized. According to Ivan Doig: “With the keen eye of the journalist he was and the nimbleness of the novelist he has become, Jim Lynch provides a thought-provoking fictional portrait of a city on the make and its somewhat tarnished tribe of civic strivers.” (I love that “somewhat.”)

Perfume Fountain
photo courtesy WA State Archives

Seattle’s adopted son, Jonathan Raban, says, “Jim Lynch writes of the city where I live with great brio and persuasiveness [and] his only-slightly alternative history is at least as plausible as the official version.”

Anyone who’s read Jim Lynch before can rightly assume he can capture whatever place he’s writing about down to its most minute and telling particulars, but this begs an oft-raised question about regional versus national appeal, which to me is a moot point. All naturalist novels will necessarily be set somewhere or the other, and the more vividly the better. In this case Seattleites will be in for an extra treat while others will learn not only much about it but also about wherever they happen to come from, where those same civic issues are present on a daily basis.

Art Exhibit
photo courtesy MOHAI

This account skips over a great many of the wonders of Truth Like the Sun, from Helen’s relationship with her son (and where’s the father?) to Roger’s with his longtime aide-de-camp, or from how weather influences suicide rates to what the bar scene’s really like, but those are for each of you to discover.

The delights of reading Jim Lynch are manifold, at once highly enjoyable and deeply pertinent. And with this book he shoots for the moon—and has really hung it.

GARY L. FISKETJON is Vice President and Editor-at-Large at Knopf, having joined the company in 1990 after previously working at Random House and Vintage and at the Atlantic Monthly Press.