A novel for anyone who’s ever had to risk it all to be the person they wanted to be…
From the critically acclaimed authors of Literacy and Longing in L.A. comes the ultimate story for late bloomers of every exotic shade. And a quirky young heroine with a knack for reinvention and a flair for the unexpected no reader will ever forget.
Thirty, newly single, and desperately in need of a paycheck, inveterate bird-watcher Cassie Shaw finds herself doing something that goes against all her principles. She lies on a résumé to land a job and finds herself employed at an elite university working for a pair of professors as unique as the rare birds she covets. One of them is the sexy, handsome, cheerfully aristocratic expert in animal behavior, Professor William Conner. Under his charismatic tutelage, Cassie begins her personal transformation into the person she was meant to be while meeting the kinds of people she has never met before. But when your entire future and your unlikely new career teeters on an unbearable untruth, the masquerade can’t go on forever. And when Cassie steps out from behind her mask it will transform her life—and the lives of those around her—forever.
About A Version of the Truth
InLiteracy and Longing in L.A., hailed as “the most delightful read of the year” by Liz Smith inthe New York Post, authors Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack captivated readers with a brilliantly imagined first novel. Now Kaufman and Mack return, introducing a character with a unique voice you’ll never forget: Cassie Shaw, an irrepressible young woman who reinvents herself—with unexpected consequences—in a funny, wise, and utterly original novel about friendship, love, wildlife, and other forces of nature.
In the wilds of Topanga Canyon, Cassie is right at home—with the call of birds, the sound of wind in the trees, the harmony of a world without people. But everywhere else, life is a little harder for Cassie. Her mother believes in Big Foot. Her wisecracking pet parrot is a drama queen. And at the age of thirty, newly single and without a college degree, Cassie desperately needs a decent paycheck. Which is why, against all her principles, she lies on her résumé for an office job at an elite university—and then finds herself employed in academia by two professors who are as rare as the birds she covets.
One of her new bosses is Professor William Conner, a sexy, handsome, cheerfully aristocratic expert in animal behavior. Soon, under Conner’s charismatic tutelage, Cassie carefully begins her personal transformation while meeting the kind of people who don’t flock to wildlife preserves—from impossibly brilliant academics to adorably spoiled college boys. But her future—and unlikely new career—is teetering on one unbearable untruth. And Cassie’s masquerade is about to come undone…in a chain of events that will transform her life—and the lives of those around her—forever.
A novel for late bloomers of every exotic shade and stripe,A Version of the Truth is pure entertainment—at once hilarious and wry, lyrical and uplifting.
“It’s The Devil Wears Prada meets Walden Pond.” —Nature
“An engaging story about a young woman transforming herself into the kind of person she’s always wanted to be…a thoughtful version of the girl-done-good tale.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Delightfully merging humor, philosophy and reflections on nature, this novel is a lot of fun…. winsome.”—Publishers Weekly
“Sweet.” —USA Today
A Version of the Truth by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack
The inspiration for A Version of the Truth was Kurt Vonnegut’s quote, “You are what you pretend to be.” As novelists, we’ve always been fascinated with stories about women who reinvent themselves–transformational stories about people who hit rock bottom and appear to have no options. There are so many women, especially today, who face overwhelming challenges and find themselves stuck in lives they never imagined.
Women do different things when this happens. Some drink. Some max out their credit cards. Some take drugs. Some jump off a bridge.
So we decided to create a modern version of Eliza Doolittle, a character who had innate intelligence and charm but, due to forces beyond her control, was relegated to a life beneath her. Like Pygmalion, one of the overall themes of our book is appearance vs. reality. Both Eliza and our heroine, Cassie, are not who they appear to be. Throughout their metamorphosis, they are able to fool everyone around them.
A Version of the Truth is set in a natural environment because of our combined interest in the 19th century nature writers such as Muir, Emerson and Thoreau–all of whom were writing around the same time as George Bernard Shaw. These were romantic artists who found a connection to the spiritual world through nature. Emerson pulled it all together with his wise saying, “You can know thyself by studying nature.”
Cassie had an unhappy, even tragic past but her spirit was uplifted in the wild. She viewed herself as different, someone who wasn’t going anywhere—“a creature apart”—who reveled in the simple beauty of the natural world and was overtaken with a mystical reverence when she was out in the woods.
This is also a contemporary story of the ephemeral quality of truth in general. It is not a morality play, however. It’s about survival and reinvention. The fact is, sometimes the truth just isn’t good enough. You can be whoever you want to be, even if it isn’t true. You become your own creation. The ineffable, slippery gradations of the truth come into play in every aspect of our protagonist’s life. Her job. Her relationships with men. Even her sighting of an extinct and exotic bird.
This brings us to the subplot of this novel which uses the mystery of an extinct species of bird as a metaphor for what the truth represents in our society. The story of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is a tantalizing “now you see it, now you don’t” conundrum that involves decades of controversy among birders, scholars and journalists, who simply won’t let the story die. In this day of technological wizardry, it is confounding that no one has been able to conclusively prove whether this bird exists or not. Fuzzy videos combined with audio tapes and years of field research by the most respected scientists in the world has only deepened this controversy.
The iconic image of the Ivory Bill strikes at the very heart of the environmental movement in this country. The bird’s majestic image has come to represent all the fears shared by the public that species are disappearing forest by forest, continent by continent. It feeds the desire to go back to a time, an Eden as it were, when these species thrived in our stately forests, valley and fields.
As for the novel itself, we created a character whose life was transformed because of a glimpse of this magnificent bird. It’s our homage to nature writers, to mystical visions and to the often global consequences of the little white lie.
Seven Stages of Reading
1. For Succeeding in your Career: “Don Quixote” by Cervantes, “The South Beach Diet”
2. For Finding a Match: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, “Persuasion” by Jane Austen, “Cinderella” and “Jane Eyre” 3. To be Inspired by Romance: “Lolita” “Jane Eyre” “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, anything by Lord Byron, Yeats and Neruda.
4. For Jealousy: “The Transit of Venus” by Shirley Hazard, “Madame Bovary” by Flaubert, “A Thousand Acres” by Jane Smiley, or, of course, the ultimate jealousy book, “King Lear”.
5. For Heartbreak: “Sentimental Education” by Flaubert, “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene, “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway, “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte or for modern girls, “He’s just not that into you” by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo 6. For Loneliness: “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath Ha! 7. For Wit: Anything by Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker.