On Our Bookshelves: The Truth About Unicorns

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NOVEL: The Truth About Unicorns

AUTHOR: Bonnie Jones Reynolds

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1972 

REVIEW:

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In these crazy times, I’ve been reading formulaic mystery novels for comfort.  There aren’t too many surprises to be found here: the attractive young people aren’t the guilty parties, and they will find love once all misunderstandings (personal and criminal) are made clear.  The deceased generally has many enemies, and few who genuinely mourn him or her.  Blackmail is a terrible idea–if you indulge in this nasty bit of opportunism, you’ll probably be the second body discovered.  There are no secrets in small towns or in country houses–eavesdroppers abound. And justice will prevail. P.D. James explained in a 1982 essay entitled “Murder Most Foul,” why it is that this sort of thing does bring comfort:

So if correctly guessing the identity of the murderer isn’t always the chief attraction, what is? Perhaps it is the age-old and universal pleasure provided by a well-told story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, a tale which takes us into a world in which we know that wrong will finally be righted, the guilty exposed, the innocent vindicated, and human reason will triumph. Perhaps is it the frisson of vicarious terror and danger as we sit safely by our fireside or pull the bedclothes more comfortably under our chin. Above all, in our increasingly violent and irrational world—in which so many of our societal problems seem insoluble—the mystery offers the psychological comfort of a story, based on the premise that murder is still the unique crime, that even the most unpleasant character has the right to live to the last natural moment, and that there is no problem, however difficult, which cannot be solved by human ingenuity, human intelligence, and human courage. 

But after many formulaic novels over the last few months (including the entirety of the Miss Silver series), I finally felt the need for something a bit more unusual.  And I found it.

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The back cover of The Truth About Unicorns describes the novel as “Robert Frost meets Stephen King in the 1920s.” There are mysteries here, and mysterious deaths, crimes attempted and crimes committed, but this novel knows no restraints by genre or convention.  It’s a weird and wild and rather haunting book.  While I was reading, I didn’t particularly think of Robert Frost (although there were woods and farms and hired men and the harshness of rural life), nor of Stephen King (although there were frightening things happening in the woods, and hints of the supernatural, and flawed and very human characters bewildered by the uncanny).  I did think of Shirley Jackson (violence erupting in small communities, scapegoats, madness, unforgotten scandals, meanness and suspicion of anything unusual), and of some famous twentieth century dramas: Inherit the Wind and The Crucible (wild accusations, courtroom theatrics). There’s no satisfying ending which rights the wrongs–the loose ends are not tied up, and the future looks quite uncertain.  We don’t even really learn the truth about unicorns (although we certainly have our suspicions). 

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To enjoy The Truth About Unicorns, embrace the mysterious, the unique, the violent, the complex, the Gothic, the ambiguous, and the messiness of death and birth and love. It’s all a bit much, yes, but so is life. 

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RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Felony & Mayhem

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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Lead-In Image (Book Cover) – Courtesy of Felony & Mayhem Press

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