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What's better than discovering a wonderful debut author? Discovering a wonderful local debut author!
With True Stories at the Smoky View, Jill McCroskey Coupe, a former Johns Hopkins University librarian, delivers an offbeat tale of justice, happenstance and the power of story.
When Vrai Lynde, now of Baltimore, returns for a funeral to her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, she isn't expecting to become responsible for a small boy, or to be caught with him in a blizzard. But Jonathan Santiago's aunt and uncle (the latter of whom is both Vrai's former lover and the brother of her late best friend) have abandoned him in a parking lot to teach him a lesson, and Vrai can't just leave him there. So the two set off for Baltimore.
On the way, though, weather intervenes. Marooned at the Smoky View motel, Vrai and Jonathan pass the time by talking about their pasts and the losses they've suffered. Jonathan's father was a dissident Chilean poet, and he and Jonathan's mother were assassinated by the Pinochet regime. And Skip, the friend Vrai has just buried, was the victim of a pettier tyrant, one who is more readily accessible.
Back in Baltimore, Vrai and Jonathan work to build a case against Skip's killer and confront him with his crimes.
This is a story that creeps up on you: charming at first, then wrapping you in its spell until you truly feel the characters' losses and what they have at stake. The plot is something you could almost imagine happening, yet just quirky enough to leave you with a frisson of escapist delight. Coupe's work is reminiscent of such varied sources as The Decameron, private eye stories and the films of Woody Allen. But ultimately, it's its own amiable and poignant self.