National Book Award-winner Robb Forman Dew continues the saga of the Scofields of Washburn, Ohio, in The Truth of the Matter (Little, Brown, 330 pp.), the follow-up to 2001’s The Evidence Against Her. In this second installment, Agnes Scofield, having brought her young family through the difficult decade following the untimely death of her husband, Warren, finds herself facing midlife crisis and empty-nest syndrome as the country heads to war. Without turning the novel into a tutorial of the 1940s, Dew nevertheless infuses the tale with the excitement and purpose, deprivation and loneliness of the war years while once again exhibiting her masterful depiction of life in an extended family.
Over the years, Agnes has established her place among the close-knit Scofields. When her children head out to take part in the war, she gradually settles into a comfortable routine. It is the end of the war and the return of her now self-sufficient children (who, oddly, seem oblivious to the deprivations faced by those on the home front) that throw her off.
On their part, Dwight, Claytor, Betts and Howard must also adjust to inhabiting their hometown as adults: “When Howard joined them, scissoring around the room, his long legs and new height startled her as she watched him carefully navigate the same space that had held him comfortably all his life.” Along with the normal repositioning that happens at some point between parent and child, Agnes also faces the challenge of measuring up to her late husband. As Warren has become yet another element of the family lore over the years, the comparison rarely comes out in her favor.
Agnes is even harder on herself, harboring guilt for her husband’s accident and for “failing” to cure his dark moods. She has, in fact, been shaped as much by his early death as by their time together. Ultimately, however, she seems headed in the right direction, though wondering, “How could all this time of her life have passed and still she hadn’t straightened out or pinned down the way to spend whatever was left?”
By this point, the beginning of the 1950s, Dew has introduced new spouses, children and friends, setting the stage for the final chapters of the saga. Just as names and characteristics carry over from generation to generation in families, Dew repeats familial roles—a new bride to shake up long-held beliefs, another child more like a Scofield than they are themselves. This clever device ties the story together over the course of the series and keeps readers devoted to the Ohio family.