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The Keepers of Truth [Paperback]

Michael Collins
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 3 2001
It is the mid-80s in post-industrial America. In a small town graced with the decaying hulks of defunct factories, young journalist and college dropout Bill churns out lengthy essays on the death of industry and of America itself for The Daily Truth, whose scoops rarely rise above the latest home-bake contest. The static summer is punctured when local bad boy Ronny Lawton reports his father missing. A dismembered finger is found and all suspect the son of murdering his hated father, but nothing can be proved. The sorry tale of the white trash Lawtons hypnotises the town and Ronny Lawton becomes a local icon. Bill becomes increasingly obsessed with the story - he gets involved with Ronny's estranged wife, finds a decomposing human head, and ends up as a suspect in the murder case himself. Things come to a head and Ronny Lawton holds his wife, child and Bill hostage in a confrontation with the FBI. Bill escapes with the woman and child and contemplates the American dream gone sour.

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From Amazon

Michael Collins' third novel The Keepers of Truth, shortlisted for the 2000 Booker Prize, is set in the American mid-west in the 1980s, as industrial decline eats away at the heart of a small town and July heat delivers a punishing drought. Once thriving with metal manufacturers, the town, "hemmed in by crops that it doesn't pay to grow any more", now boasts trainee managers. Eating is the new pastime. Bill works as a reporter for the Daily Truth, a local newspaper built in a disused foundry. Suffering from an inflated sense of his talent as a philosopher, Bill makes a verbose and often funny narrator, an inept news journalist and, as the novel progresses, a sloppy Private Eye: "I apply philosophy like one applies dressing to a wound."

When Ronny Lawton's father goes missing, Bill has to adjust to the shock of producing copy people will actually read. After a small piece of finger is found, the town rushes to vilify Ronny and trial by media ensues. Before e-mail, at the cusp of the widespread use of answer machines, news travels more slowly and the newspaper men fight a losing battle for ascendancy over television. "I lived in the slipstream of TV's immediacy," says Bill. He ironically designates the paper's editor and photographer the "keepers of truth" and wonders at their apparent ability to ride the edge between banality and scavenging. It later emerges that the women of the town keep truth of a different order.

Being from Ireland with its capacity for nostalgia, Collins handles the town's decay and loss with great pathos and fiercely energetic satire. As an outsider, he is well placed to inhabit a narrator set apart by cynicism, boredom and an intellectual view as moribund as the town's labour history. But in Bill's search for deeper meaning, he stumbles into an understanding of the Lawton murder that the media en masse fail to grasp. Collins has produced a compelling and often profound detective story that takes an athletic swipe at the confused mores of contemporary America--a society consumed. --Cherry Smyth --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This curiously landscaped crime drama, Collins's U.S. debut and a Booker Prize nominee, showcases the author's cool, playful competence. Captivatingly set in a small, nameless rust belt town left far behind in the economic dust, the story loosely hangs on the disappearance of Old Man Lawton. Locals believe he was killed by his no-good son, Ronny, but police don't have enough evidence to make an arrest. Though the official investigation soon comes to a dead end, the search becomes the obsession of the story's narrator, a man referred to only as Bill, who works as a reporter for the town's newspaper, The Truth. Bill pursues the case along with two of his colleagues, Sam and Ed, bumping along in a bizarre, dreamlike hunt that yields few clues, but succeeds at illuminating life in a small town mired in steep decline. Big industrial employers are long gone, replaced by fast food chains and strip malls. Alcoholism runs high. Everybody knows everyone else and, more chillingly, knows each other's secrets and shortcomings. It is no surprise that the search for Old Man Lawton becomes a bloodthirsty affair that brings out the town's true nature. Collins, an American citizen published primarily in his native Ireland (Emerald Underground; The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters), displays a craftsman's touch throughout this arresting, frequently creepy tale of an America not often viewed.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling Genius April 2 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
NPR does a great service in bringing us voices that we may otherwise never hear. Michael Collins is one such voice. Hailed in Europe and lauded with prizes, I'd never heard of him. In his interview he gave such a personal account of his struggle and survival in America as a young immigrant, that I decided to read his book. He seemed to suggest that we as a nation had lost our ability to think politically, to react to world affairs. Needless to say, I bristled at this contention. I wanted to ask him why he stayed?
I can't say I agree with everything in this book, but it is an uncanny vision of America, a re-vision of past events overlayed with some heavy, but insightful analysis of us as a country. His contention that over 20,000 people were murdered and this constituted an undeclared revolution within America in the early eighties now seemed more insightful than when I first heard the figure. Collins contended in the interview that Americans were apt to dismiss this figure as gang related, to mitigate the level of violence to a subgroup of our nation. However, in The Keepers of Truth he has created the emotional and political landscape of America, peopled it with all the hopes and fears we share. He shows the rise and fall of characters, not always their own fault, but victims of society, and we are asked to have humanity and understanding for those who fail, and indeed, in this book, failure seems inevitable, or at least decline. (It is hard to decide what I feel about this contention.)
Collins raises serious societal issues in of all genres to adopt, a crime, or mystery novel, and he pulls it off with such verve of language, suspense and pace, that one had to give him his moments on the soapbox. As a denizen of the midwest I can vouch for at least the atmosphere and tension Collins creates. It is a startling achievement for a foreigner to understand, or maybe, not understand, but question us with such probing questions.
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Format:Paperback
I picked up Keepers of the Truth after going to amazon.com and adding some books to my reading list. All the reviewers were saying things to the effect that the guy's very underrated, and one even went as far as to say that KotT is better than Franzen's book.
Now that I'm 85 pages into it, I wish that I had read it before his lecture tour. He does make some interesting analogies, particularly his juxtaposition of a bathroom stall and a confessional. Also, I now have this desire to ask him what he thinks of Bruce Springsteen's role in the working world: an emotional salve or a revolutionary much in the vein of Collins as a writer.
I think that as age advances on him, he will at least gain contentment that this book will be added to required reading lists through the Midwest (or maybe just along the Coasts).
The book seemed like it was just going to be some surrealistic ... when he started talking about workers in stained yellow shirts with buckets of beer. His characters have since demonstrated the worth of the book. I think my brother might enjoy the text as well, since Collins seems to have Hunter's flare for the gauche.
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5.0 out of 5 stars On the Outside Looking In... March 28 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A voice both within and outside America narrates this surreal elegy to the death of American Industrialism and the passing of a certain blue collar security and life. The voice within is the voice of the American people, and Collins (an immigrant) has such an ear for our language its uncanny that we wholly feel that we are reading an author who is one of us. The banter, the pace, the descriptions are all quintessentially American, but lurking throughout the book is this outside voice, a voice that cleaves apart the political and social matrix of who and what we are. We see ourselves again for the first time through this voice. Our America is presented in all its familiarity, but somehow there is a spin on this vision.
It's hard really to describe this book more than to speak of its mood, of its profound ability to get at your psyche, but it does and for the few friends I've lent the book, they also feel its resonance, that it has a life after you finish it.
I think this book is destined to be read for years. It rings with such authenticity and raises so many questions on the predicament of humanity in the late and early 21st century, that it serves the launching pad for understanding where we are at this time in history. It does not provide the answers, but sometimes the questions need to be asked first...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Readers' Group Pick as Book of the Year March 19 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Featured on NPR, this book tweaked one of our bookclub member's interest and she suggested it. Despite the rather grim synopsis, weighty issues of dying towns and dismembered bodies (we are a squimish bunch of sage academics), we decided on the book, and it turns out the book was simply the best book we as a group have read ever. We have been meeting for over 6 years, so this is no small accolade. Blending story, politics, mystery and brilliant writing, Collins has created a new literary voice that flirts between popular and serious fiction and breathed life into the novel. It feels like a post 911 book somehow. Yes, we continue to live our day to day existence, but there is a veneer of the political in our lives. We are aware of political menance, of the actions and the life around us, how our politics can have dramatic effects on the world. Again, this book, written in 2000, somehow populates the vacuum we now find ourselves in.
In writing this review, I discovered Collins' book is shortlisted for the world's biggest cash prize literary award, The Impac, and our group takes as a great measure of pride that we discovered this writer before this shortlist nomination.
We recommend this book without reservation as the must read book of the year!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars gripping mystery
This sleeper that never quite caught the public eye has been shortlisted for all major literary awards, Booker and IMPAC. Read more
Published on June 6 2002 by don mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark Realism Shines - A Masterpiece
This starkly realistic novel is a movie waiting to be made. Its cinematic eye provides both the mood and pace to this noir murder mystery. Read more
Published on March 29 2002 by harry bridges
2.0 out of 5 stars none too subtle
This book definitely held my attention, but it's not close to being a 'great book'. Most of the characters--especially women--boil down to tired stereotypes. Read more
Published on March 28 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book that asks the serious questions!
This is a stunning novel, a novel of our times, a novel that speaks to political and social upheaval. It's prophetic! Read more
Published on March 3 2002 by ronald parks
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth Can Scare You and Heal You!
The Truth in The Keepers of Truth is one of dark forbiddance, a grim look at where our society had gone since the end of industrialism. Read more
Published on March 1 2002 by rachel holtz
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal and Haunting Murder Mystery
This is without a doubt one of those monumental works of fiction that will continue to be read in years to come. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2002 by sarah barker
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawless work of political and moral insight
What a tour de force this book is! I was blown away by the level at which the story probed the demise of industrialism in our country, and how it handled the effect of human... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful. My whole book club hated it.
This book got a loud, unanimous thumbs-down from my 9-member book club. The woman who suggested it came to our discussion meeting deeply embarrassed and apologetic. Read more
Published on Feb. 19 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars and what a heavy truth it is!...
Written by an Irishman, The Keepers of Truth ostensibly refers to the motley trio, Sam, Ed, and Bill, who run the townï¿s newspaper, ï¿The Truthï¿. Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2002 by R. Peterson
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