Book Review: "The Ordinary Truth" by Jana Richman

Well friends, I am taking a little detour this week from my usual gooey delights to review the work of a very amazing writer named Jana Richman.  Jana, whose blog can be found here,  writes modern westerns.  This work is a raw and emotional tale about one family.  If you're looking for a break from the undead, clockwork, or other things that go bump in the night, check out her work.  Here is my review:
Jana Richman’s “The Ordinary Truth” is a raw, compassionate portrayal of the experiences of four women from one Nevada ranch family.  The plot line is tension-filled, the work is beautifully descripted, and the message makes for a poignant read.  I often felt the novel had me by the “emotional guts,” and I found myself holding my breath—much, I suspect, like the characters—until I reached the end of the novel.

In its chapter by chapter construction, the novel centers around four characters:  Nell, Ona, Kate, and Cassie.  It is Nell, however, who steals the show.  Nell, a hardened rancher, is so realistically described that I likened her to many of the matriarchs in my own family: stubborn, bossy, and narcissistic.  Nell is in the golden years, and her self-centeredness seems childish at times, but in Nell, Richman draws a character who is real—real is not always nice.  Ona, soft-hearted and compassionate, is the observer of the novel.  It is through Ona’s eyes that we can see, understand, and often fairly judge the difficulties many of the characters face.  Kate, Nell’s daughter, is a remarkably modern mess.  Haunted by the loss of her father, Kate’s stiffness paired with fragility hits home.  Losing a parent early and traumatically often rocks a child, and Richman portrays Kate’s struggle with deftness.  Cassie, Kate’s daughter, devises a plan to crack open the secrets that have lain buried in the family for years.  Her determination, though somewhat misguided, is admirable.

“The Ordinary Truth” provides for a rich read.  While the family struggles are the most important plot element, the backdrop alludes to the ecocritical theme of the growing rarity of water in the west.  A Floridian, I have no experience with and limited knowledge of struggles over water scarcity.  Richman brings the problem to the reader’s attention as part of the plot but is not overly “preachy” about the issue.  In fact, a deeper look at the work suggests that the struggle over life-giving water, and whether or not drilling a pipeline under ranch land to redistribute water, serves as a metaphor for the experiences of the characters: what happens when the essential elements of life are rerouted, misused, or sucked dry?  Perhaps Richman is alluding to something more than water here.

Richman has a number of great lines in the book that provide criticism of modern life.  Kate remarks on the cult of busyness in stating that we are all in “the perpetual quest for keeping oneself occupied, entertained, and important—which burns at the edge of addiction.”   Her daughter Cassie later remarks that in its most bureaucratic incarnations, Kate’s generation “goes right on fucking everybody over and apologizing along the way.  Your apologies are meaningless, insulting.”  I have to agree on both counts.

If you are looking for a masterfully written modern western, Richman’s work is sure to please.  

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