A Review of Truly Like Lightning

David Duchovny’s fourth novel, Truly Like Lightning, will be published February 2, 2021, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. You can pre-order it now, but I was lucky enough to obtain an advanced reader’s copy, and I wrote a review of the novel. I’m including it here in my X-Files blog because, you know, David Duchovny!

Here’s a description of the novel from the publisher:

From the New York Times–bestselling author David Duchovny, an epic adventure that asks how we make sense of right and wrong in a world of extremes

For the past twenty years, Bronson Powers, former Hollywood stuntman and converted Mormon, has been homesteading deep in the uninhabited desert outside Joshua Tree with his three wives and ten children. Bronson and his wives, Yalulah, Mary, and Jackie, have been raising their family away from the corruption and evil of the modern world. Their insular existence—controversial, difficult, but Edenic—is upended when the ambitious young developer Maya Abbadessa stumbles upon their land. Hoping to make a profit, she crafts a wager with the family that sets in motion a deadly chain of events.

Maya, threatening to report the family to social services, convinces them to enter three of their children into a nearby public school. Bronson and his wives agree that if Maya can prove that the kids do better in town than in their desert oasis, they will sell her a chunk of their priceless plot of land. Suddenly confronted with all the complications of the twenty-first century that they tried to keep out of their lives, the Powerses must reckon with their lifestyle as they try to save it.

Truly Like Lightning, David Duchovny’s fourth novel, is a heartbreaking meditation on family, religion, sex, greed, human nature, and the vanishing environment of an ancient desert.

My Review

Truly Like Lightning is an epic American novel, set firmly in the here and now, but reaching back to past generations and pushing forward into the future. It follows a large cast of characters, each with unique and fully developed backgrounds and motivations. These characters are dynamic and interesting, their paths and finish lines are surprising and yet absolutely true to them.

One thing I truly appreciate is the way the main characters are presented, for the most part, without mockery or derision. There’s no judgment of their lives, this is just who they are. It takes a lot of talent to put forward such an extreme story as if it just IS, and the author has accomplished that. This perspective helps the reader find commonality with the characters, who may have had very different experiences. Even though their lives aren’t run-of-the-mill, their emotions and reactions are in many ways universal.

The novel is not so neutral about society at large. It calls into question the cost of “progress”, particularly in the past 20 years. The criticism is harsh yet presented with a deft use of humor, focusing on shared reality rather than blame. It was this humor in which I recognized the author’s voice most clearly.

I’m a huge fan of Mr. Duchovny’s earlier novels. I enjoyed the almost light, almost fantastical storytelling, even where darker themes were explored. This novel is a step above. It draws you in with crisp, clear prose, an intensely fast pace, a compelling, multi-faceted story, and characters who break your heart in the best way. I’d say I couldn’t put it down, except that I had to stop every few pages just to catch my breath. True to form, the author leaves us with a fairy tale ending, albeit slightly more grounded in reality. It’s stunningly brilliant.

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