The last of a manufacturing dynasty in a dying industrial town, Bill lives alone in the family mansion and works for the Truth, the moribund local paper. He yearns to write long philosophical pieces about the American dream gone sour, not the flaccid write-ups of bake-off contests demanded by the Truth. Then, old man Lawton goes missing, and suspicion fixes on his son, Ronny. Paradoxically, the specter of violent death breathes new life into the town. For Bill, a deeper and more disturbing involvement with the Lawtons ensues. The Lawton murder and the obsessions it awakes in the town come to symbolize the mood of a nation on the edge. Compulsively readable, The Keepers of Truth startles both with its insights and with Collins's powerful, incisive writing.
- Man Booker Prize for Fiction
This curiously landscaped crime drama, Collins's U.S. debut and a Booker Prize nominee, showcases the author's cool, playful competence. Captivatingly set in a small, nameless rust belt town left far behind in the economic dust, the story loosely hangs on the disappearance of Old Man Lawton. Locals believe he was killed by his no-good son, Ronny, but police don't have enough evidence to make an arrest. Though the official investigation soon comes to a dead end, the search becomes the obsession of the story's narrator, a man referred to only as Bill, who works as a reporter for the town's newspaper, The Truth. Bill pursues the case along with two of his colleagues, Sam and Ed, bumping along in a bizarre, dreamlike hunt that yields few clues, but succeeds at illuminating life in a small town mired in steep decline. Big industrial employers are long gone, replaced by fast food chains and strip malls. Alcoholism runs high. Everybody knows everyone else and, more chillingly, knows each other's secrets and shortcomings. It is no surprise that the search for Old Man Lawton becomes a bloodthirsty affair that brings out the town's true nature. Collins, an American citizen published primarily in his native Ireland (Emerald Underground; The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters), displays a craftsman's touch throughout this arresting, frequently creepy tale of an America not often viewed. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
September 25, 2001
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Excerpt from The Keepers of Truth by Michael Collins
I call this one "Ode to a Trainee Manager."
When you enter this town of ours, I would want you to read the following, to enlighten you as to how it is here with us at this time in history. It seems only right. Even in medieval times they used to put up signs that said, "Plague! Keep Out."
This is what I'd say...
We have made nothing in this town in over a decade. It's as though a plague befell our men, as horrible as any of the plagues that fell on Egypt. Our men used to manufacture cars, sheet metal, mobile homes, washers and dryers, frame doors, steel girders for bridges and skyscrapers. Our town had contracts from Sears and Ford and General Motors. Everybody worked in the factories, bending metal into the shape of car fenders, gaskets, engine blocks, distributor caps, sewing vinyl seats for Cadillacs and Continentals. We had hands throbbing to make things. Factories were our cathedrals, pushed up out of the Great Plains.
The din of sound, the subterranean rumble of machinery, filled our consciousness once upon a time. You would have felt the buffeted sound of hammers in our encasement of snow when winter gripped us, locked away from the world outside, making things as snow fell heavy across the plains, isolating us. Our furnaces bled against the snow, a crucible of fire amid the plains. There was peace, then, and security, all of us moving under the bowls of streetlights on ploughed streets, proceeding slowly home in our cars, exhausted, as the machines of our existence ate the night shift. You'd have seen the slow trundle of trains full of gleaming cars we had built snaking out to the great cities on the East and West Coasts.
If you happened to come upon us in the summer scorch, you would have seen our men in stained yellow T-shirts, dripping sweat, eating down by the river from steel lunch boxes, guzzling ice-cold Coca-Cola or buckets of cold beer. You would have seen the way they used to drag their forearms across their mouths with easy satisfaction, rise and stretch and walk the factory yards, smoking in long, deep pulls. You might have heard the pop of a bat at the lunch break, our men out in the fields behind the factories rounding bases, sending balls over the brownstone perimeter of our existence. There was cheap beer in the dark shade of run-down bars for men who needed it, and an allotment of whores down by the vast labyrinth of viaducts and foundry cooling pools. We had a chocolate factory, too, where our young women in confectionery hats pasted fudge and caramel drops and taffy brittle on wax baking sheets. You would have come across them smoking against the blackened brownstone walls, pale ghosts covered in flour. They had that luxurious odor of cocoa and cinnamon ingrained into their pores.
And on a warm summer's night, you would have found us in the collective destiny of a drive-in movie, us in our machines in the humid air of summer heat; heard the shrill cries of the drive-in mesh speaker filling our heads with the horror of living in the Cold War, as giant ants from a nuclear holocaust attacked New York City.