In the early Noughties a trio of jaunty US writers appeared, each sporting their own idiosyncratic take on the contemporary novel. David Schickler (Kissing in Manhattan), Ben Sherwood (The Man Who Ate the 747) and Jim Lynch (The Highest Tide) formed a new wave. A decade on and Schickler was last heard of coaching a Jesuit school cross-country team, while Sherwood suffered the ignominy of having his second offering, The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, turned into a dismal vehicle for Zac Efron. Lynch, however, has managed to stay the course and with the publication of his third novel, Truth Like the Sun, mature into a consummate stylist.
The Highest Tide, Lynch's debut, was a coming of age tale wrapped in a tribute to the joys of messing around in rock pools, lagoons, coves and all the other saltwater havens of this world. It was fresh, moving, funny and, most of all, decisively true to its small town heart. It's a surprise then to find Lynch take to the city in Truth Like the Sun.
The metropolis in question is Seattle. The story see-saws between 1962, as the World's Fair comes to town, and 2001, when the approaching 40th anniversary of the exhibition shines new light on the whole shebang. Roger Morgan is the fair's fictionalised architect, a glad-handing show-boater who meets, greets and gets his way. His vision was not only to put Seattle on the map but to keep it there. But the new millennium shows that his dream hasn't materialised, so at his 70th birthday he announces that he's running for Mayor. Helen Gulanos, a young reporter with an eye on a scoop decides to discover the man behind "Mr Seattle". "By now it was a myth," realises Helen, "and with that realisation she felt a rebellious desire to expose the truth about the fair."
The fair, whose formal title was "Century 21 Exposition", really was a hoot. Elvis rocked, astronauts visited and the world watched as the city in the wilds became a big-league hitter. Twenty-first century life, by the fair's premonition, was to be a Jetsons-style existence of "houses with push-button windows, disposable dishes and helicopter pads in cities shielded by weather domes".
Lynch captures the make do and mend mentality of the participants, and what a seismic shift that summer created for the region. He is also particularly skilled at describing the precarious times in which Roger flourished. Things were smoking over in Cuba and the world was warming up to a Cold War.
Roger's mantra back in the day was that "every endeavour, big and small, begins with an idea". Helen takes her lead from Balzac's belief that behind every great fortune is a great crime. The parry and thrust between journalist and subject is expertly handled. The obvious cultural touch point for Lynch's novel is Citizen Kane, and as Helen searches for her Rosebud revelation, readers are confronted with the American obsession with ambition in all its tarnished glory.