City of Truth

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the strange world of Veritas, children are “brainburned” to make them incapable of lying. Their society is brutally candid, hostile to euphemisms even in personal relationships (marriage ceremonies are couched in realistic, qualified terms) and personal hygiene (“frank sweat” and “honest halitosis”). When Jack Sperry, an art deconstructionist whose job consists of “ferreting” out the lies in “ancient” literature, learns that his son, Toby, has contracted a fatal disease, the truth becomes repellent and unacceptable. He subsequently renews his acquaintance with Martina, a dissembling writer with an affinity for dreaded metaphor, and joins her literally underground colleagues in “Satirev,” the reverse of “veritas” and a comment on Morrow’s satiric style. After undergoing treatment for his “brainburn,” Jack takes Toby from Camp Ditch-the-Kids (an honest description) to the City of Lies with its twelve gates.

With help from the HEART (Healing and Ecstasy Association for the Recovery of Toby) association, Jack not only hides the truth from Toby, but comes truly to know and love his son. Unfortunately, Toby’s condition deteriorates, and when he comes to know the truth, he wants to see his mother, Helen. Jack and Helen are reconciled after Toby’s death (which converts Helen to dissembling), and they flee Veritas. At the end of the novel they are sailing in the Caribbean with their daughter Andrea and friend Boris. Rather than remain in Satirev, where they could revolt against the tyranny of truth, they leave both worlds, primarily because there are abuses, albeit different ones, in both Veritas and Satirev (and perhaps satire). Jack finally regards the voyeuristic sentimentality of the HEART members as being as inhumane as the brutal candor of the truth-tellers. Though much of the novel consists of clever puns and satiric jabs, the concluding image of people at sea in a world of lies and absolute truth has a Swiftian ring and moral purpose.