True Story begins as a story we have heard before: a night of drinking leads to the possible sexual assault of a young girl at the hands of boys who, instead of being ashamed of the event, are happy to share tales of their conquest. That is until whispers and rumors threaten to ruin their fun. Then the story takes a sharp turn as Petty leads us through various narrative forms, from college admissions essay to screenplay and more, transforming a well-known tale into a breathless quest for the truth. The term "genre-bending" is thrown around a lot; how thrilling it is to finally read a book that lives up to that name. —Luisa— From Elaine and Luisa's Picks: Summer 2020
August 2020 Indie Next List
“A brilliant mind-bender of a novel that uses different methods of storytelling to illustrate how storytelling creates different versions of truth (if truth even exists) and reality. Are we the stories we tell ourselves? Or do we become the stories that are told about us? This is the question True Story asks as it peels away layer after layer of the narrative. Part fever dream, part timely comment on sexual assault, and part psychological thriller, True Story will keep you turning pages and guessing until the genius, puzzle-completing ending. I LOVED this book!”
— Debra Ginsberg, DIESEL, A Bookstore, Santa Monica, CA
“A gripping, ripped-from-headlines tale.” —People
“Spellbinding.” —Megan Abbott, The New York Times Book Review
Tracing the fifteen-year fallout of a toxic high school rumor, a riveting, astonishingly original debut novel about the power of stories—and who gets to tell them
2015. A gifted and reclusive ghostwriter, Alice Lovett makes a living helping other people tell their stories. But she is haunted by the one story she can't tell: the story of, as she puts it, "the things that happened while I was asleep."
1999. Nick Brothers and his lacrosse teammates return for their senior year at their wealthy Maryland high school as the reigning state champions. They're on top of the world—until two of his friends drive a passed-out girl home from of the team's "legendary" parties, and a rumor about what happened in the backseat spreads through the town like wildfire.
The boys deny the allegations, and, eventually, the town moves on. But not everyone can. Nick descends into alcoholism, and Alice builds a life in fits and starts, underestimating herself and placing her trust in the wrong people. When she finally gets the opportunity to confront the past she can't remember—but which has nevertheless shaped her life—will she take it?
An inventive and breathtaking exploration of a woman finding her voice in the wake of trauma, True Story is part psychological thriller, part fever dream, and part timely comment on sexual assault, power, and the very nature of truth. Ingeniously constructed and full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the final pages, it marks the debut of a singular and daring new voice in fiction.
About the Author
Kate Reed Petty has been recognized with a Narrative magazine 30 Below Award, as well as grants and scholarships from the Robert Deutsch Foundation, The Mount, Bloedel Reserve, and the Sewanee Writers Conference. Her short fiction has been published in Electric Literature, American Short Fiction, Blackbird, Ambit, Nat. Brut, and Los Angeles Review of Books, and she has a master of letters from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She lives in Baltimore.
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
“Spellbinding . . . Petty leaps from genre to genre with dizzying velocity. . . to show the way trauma works on us, how it shapes our lived experience. . . tantalizing us with the ‘truth’ about what really happened to Alice. . . even as the term itself feels increasingly useless, deceptive.” —Megan Abbott, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
“Unfolds like a mystery, flitting between genres to weave an inventive tale . . . that keeps you hooked until the very end.” —BuzzFeed
“Extraordinary . . . Fans of the formal inventiveness and twisty-turny narratives of Trust Exercise and A Visit From the Goon Squad will be immediately engrossed.” —Elle, “The Best Books of 2020 (So Far)”
“True Story [was] able to remind me of the pleasure of reading when I was certain I had lost it forever . . . [It's] that surprisingly hard-to-find gem, [one of those] books I will stay up all night for, books that will make me forget where I am, and yet the sentences are also nice, and the mind behind them very sharp.” —Nadja Spiegelman, The Paris Review, "Favorite Books of 2020"
“[W]ith every page, True Story gets . . . more inventive, with slow and fast twists that challenge conventional notions of power, sexual assault, and our understanding of truth.” —Goop
“[Petty writes] with great skill and intelligence . . . I love a sense of earned bamboozlement.” —Molly Young, Vulture
“An impressive literary crime novel along the lines of Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman with great pacing and formal experimentation . . . A dazzling puzzle.” —CrimeReads
“[I] found a lot of comfort in the recognition (and awe!) I felt while reading True Story.” —Tavi Gevinson, The Huffington Post
“Part thriller, part social commentary . . . a masterclass in creative form . . . [True Story] underscores the way trauma reverberates through decades.” —Good Housekeeping
“Among the best [books] I've read this year. It's an exhilarating read…and the twist at the end all but requires you to go back to page one.” —Perrie Samotin, Glamour
“Blurring genres and subverting structure, Petty examines the ways narratives are woven and take root while trying to untangle the truth.” —The Millions
“Extend[s] the legacy of Speak.” —Bitch
"A powerful and thought-provoking examination of how the manipulation of stories can shape whole lives." —The Guardian
“Electrifying . . . [Petty] melds genres, narrators and narrative style with such ease and confidence, you’d swear she’d been at it for years . . . Each section is a vignette on its own right—but together they form a sly commentary on the nature of trauma and the question of agency when telling a story. Like any good horror romp, this one has a delicious twist . . . Ultimately, however, the true terrors come from within—our own demons, our own memories, our own dissonance between fiction and reality.” —PureWow
“[S]imultaneously scratched all my favorite itches: thrillers, movie nerddom, and literary fiction, and done so innovatively and ambitiously but also never stopped being a page turner.” —Brightest Young Things
“[An] innovative, genre-busting debut . . . Readers will be unable to put it down.” —Booklist (Starred Review)
“Fast-paced, gripping, and unforgettable.” —Debutiful
“Captivating . . . Petty’s page-turner is as sly and devastating as the nature of truth.” —Publishers Weekly
“A genre-skipping, shape-shifting drama . . . the year’s most unheralded gem.” —NJ.com
“I literally cannot believe this book exists. A mind-blowing, page-turning, un-put-downable, heartwarming, empathetic, formally inventive horror suspense thriller, with a life-affirming and timely feminist message? What? This would be an amazing fifteenth novel for a person to have written and it is Kate Reed Petty's first one. What an incredible talent!” —Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot
“Kate Reed Petty is such a gifted writer that she can make even a college application essay feel utterly heartbreaking. And in True Story, she has given us a riveting and totally innovative novel about the power of lies to shape the truth, a book built like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle whose picture becomes thrillingly clear only after you’ve locked in the very last piece.” —Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
“Brilliant—a darkly gripping enigma of a book. Petty boldly plays with genre and voice to tell the story of an assault and a rumor that shapes the trajectory of a woman's life. The result is a beautifully prismatic and profound meditation on victims and perpetrators, lies and truth, and above all the dangers and powers of storytelling and what it means to finally claim your voice.” —Mona Awad, author of Bunny
“True Story is a spectacular first novel—innovative, convincing, daring, suspenseful, heart-wrenching, and altogether astonishing. Kate Reed Petty is a force. What a beautifully unified, richly imagined, and skillfully composed work of literary art. I hope it wins the prizes Petty deserves.” —Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried
“True Story is a brilliant achievement—original, powerful, and playful, flipping formats like a kaleidoscope whose fractals rearrange with each twist until the truth comes into final focus. But beyond its formal daring and assurance, it's a thoroughly engrossing read. I may have held my breath through the whole thing, and I will think about it for a long time. This is a shapeshifting, sneak attack of a novel that leaves a permanent imprint.” —Lauren Acampora, author of The Paper Wasp
“I loved it. Such a smart, powerful, ambitious book, very high concept and so effectively realised. Definitely one to look out for this summer.” —Daisy Buchanan, author of How to Be a Grown-Up, via Twitter