Summary and book reviews of Strange But True by John Searles

Strange But True

by John Searles

Strange But True
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2004, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 366 pages

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Book Summary

Beautifully written and charged with a sublime wit, the novel brings to vibrant life a cast of characters that no reader will forget.



After a mysterious fall from his New York City apartment, Philip Chase has moved back home with his mother, Charlene, a bitter woman who has never fully accepted the death of her younger son, Ronnie, five years earlier. Numb from watching too much television, rereading a tragic biography, and trading snipes with his mother, Philip is in stasis.

But everything changes late one windy February night when Ronnie's high school girlfriend shows up on their doorstep. A sad young woman who still bears the scars of the accident that took Ronnie's life on the night of their prom, Melissa has unexpectedly found hope. She is nine months pregnant. And the father, she claims, is Ronnie.

So begins this startling tale, which moves from one breathless surprise to another as Philip and his mother confront not only Melissa's past but their own. Their desperate search for answers takes them on a poignant and emotional journey, ultimately placing them in the path of murder and revenge.

At once a moving story of redemption and a heart-stopping work of suspense, Strange but True confirms John Searles's place among the most gifted voices of his generation. Beautifully written and charged with a sublime wit, the novel brings to vibrant life a cast of characters that no reader will forget.

Chapter One

Almost five years after Ronnie Chase's death, the phone rings late one windy February evening. Ronnie's older brother, Philip, is asleep on the foldout sofa, because the family room has served as his bedroom ever since he moved home from New York City. Tangled in the sheets -- among his aluminum crutch, balled-up Kleenexes, TV Guides, three remote controls, and a dog-eared copy of an Anne Sexton biography -- is the cordless phone. Philip's hand fumbles in the dark until he dredges it up by the stubby antenna and presses the On button. "Hello."

A faint, vaguely familiar female voice says, "Philip? Is that you?"

Philip opens his mouth to ask who's calling, then stops when he realizes who it is: Melissa Moody, his brother's high school girlfriend. His mind fills with the single image of her on prom night, blood splattered on the front of her white dress. The memory is enough to make his mouth drop open farther. It is an expression all of the...

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Introduction

With the keen perception and taut tension that made Boy Still Missing an acclaimed debut, John Searles returns with a haunting tale of family, mystery and miracles.

Strange but True begins just weeks after a bitter homecoming. Injured during a mysterious fall from his New York City apartment, Philip Chase is recuperating at his mother's home in a Pennsylvania suburb. She has never come to terms with the death of her other son, Ronnie, whose memory makes every day an emotional struggle for her and those around her. One night, Ronnie's high school girlfriend, Melissa Moody, arrives on their doorstep with shocking news: she is nine months pregnant, and the father, she claims, is Ronnie. The search for the truth ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As the book title implies, this is a strange tale but one that, if read to the end, is all too credible. The mystery itself is gripping, but what stood out for me are the people in the book; Searles has vested even the most minor of players with full blown characters - so much so that I suspect that long after I'm struggling to recall the title of this book I'll still remember the Polish librarian, the elderly gay landlord, the Mexican waiter and many more.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

You know what's coming next, but you don't know all of it. This is the reason we keep reading.

USA Today

[Searles] shows how mundane events and discoveries can jump-start the spirit and bring us to terms with what and who we are...remarkably true to life.

BookBrowse - Davina

As the book title implies, this is a strange but credible tale. The mystery itself is gripping, but what stood out for me are the people in the book; Searles has vested even the most minor of players with full blown characters - so much so that I suspect that long after I'm struggling to recall the title of this book I'll still remember the Polish librarian, the elderly gay landlord, the Mexican waiter and many more.

Library Journal

Searles crafts a second novel about a family shocked by the loss of a son-and his girlfriend's announcement years later that she is bearing the young man's child. With a seven-city author tour.

Publishers Weekly

...while readers will enjoy traveling to the heart of the mystery, what they'll cherish most in this accomplished novel are its startling real characters, with even the minor players all perfectly crafted. Searle's novel should find a wide and grateful readership.

Author Blurb Adriana Trigiani, author of Lucia, Lucia
Funny, mysterious and poignant....John Searles has created a novel to reread and treasure.

Author Blurb Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors and Dry
John Searles' novel illuminates the intricate dynamics of families with humor, heart, and truth.


Author Blurb Carolyn Parkhusrt, author of The Dogs of Babel
Imaginative and compelling....John Searles has created a novel that is sometimes eerie, sometimes thrilling, and always completely engaging.

Author Blurb Lisa Scottoline, author of Killer Smile
This is a page-turner with characters you can never forget.

Author Blurb New York Times
This tale has a light, eccentric aspect....You'll race right through it.

Reader Reviews

Vic D

Intriguing Author
Recently read this book and loved it. Searles has a writing style that is unique and surprising. His characters draw you into their world. Very refreshing manner of storytelling.

Stephanie

Excellent book - fast read. Once it hooks you, you can't put it down.

Heather

It was sooooo good.

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Beyond the Book

John Searles is the author of Boy Still Missing and Strange But True, and the  Deputy Editor at Cosmopolitan where he oversees all book excerpts and reviews for the magazine. His essays, articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other national newspapers and magazines. He lives in New York City.

When asked how he approaches ...

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