City of Truth is one of the shortest of James Morrow’s novels, but it has as much conceptual heft as any of them. The setting is a near-future dystopia in which the denizens are conditioned for absolute honesty and candor. I was reminded of many other books, from Zamiatin’s We to The Physiognomy of Jeffrey Ford, in terms of the way that an imagined totalitarianism and its resistance are conceived. Even outside of the satirical fantasy genre, however, the book is unusual for placing a father’s relationship to his son at the center of the main character’s motivation.
Morrow is best known for his autopsies and parodies of religious themes, and there is certainly much relevant to theology in a book which refers repeatedly to “putative souls” and where examples of lies include “God protects the innocent” and “Love is eternal.” But the heart of this book is an exploration of philosophical matters that have an equal “secular” importance. The name of the protagonist Jack Sperry reads to me as derived from spero (Lat. “I hope”), which points to the ethical business of the story, and the epistemological issue is mentioned in passing by one of Sperry’s insurgent (“dissembler”) acquaintances as “the confusion of the empirical with the true” (87).
The book has many moments that are terribly funny, but it revolves around personal tragedy as well as the systematic cruelty of a society extrapolated from benevolent rational motives. It is short and quick-to-read, but not for the faint of heart. [via]