Posted on May 1, 2022
”Strange but True” belongs to the That Terrible Night storytelling genre. It begins with the memory of a calamity, but the author, John Searles, is determined to keep the details shrouded in mystery. What happened at the senior prom in Radnor, Pa., in 1999? Why did a boy named Ronnie Chase die that night? And why, years later, is his prom date apparently pregnant with his baby?
Fortunately for Mr. Searles the appeal of this novel (his second, after ”Boy Still Missing”) does not depend on the direct answers to those questions. He has the plotting skills to tease an elaborate story out of that basic setup, but his ability to engage goes beyond that. His book creates and then unravels characters the reader would like to know better.
These people are deliberately sketchy at the point where Mr. All we know is that the household consists of Charlene, Ronnie’s embittered mother, and Philip, her other son. We know that Philip recently returned to Radnor after living in New York, and that he is badly banged up: there’s a cast on his leg and a cut on his throat. Philip likes to read Anne Sexton’s poetry. This only heightens this story’s doomy intimations. ”When she got pregnant, it really screwed with her head,” Philip tells the mother to be.
”Ronnie communicated with me from the dead,” Melissa explains to Ronnie’s mother and brother. Naturally Philip is quick to wonder about what Ronnie can possibly have to do with Melissa’s pregnancy. ”What does she expect us to believe, that she has the womb of a sea turtle?” he asks, regarding the prospect of an impossibly long gestation period — or a miracle.
From this central encounter Mr. Searles begins expanding his story and filling in the blanks. He flashes back to the prom itself. (more…)