Synopses & Reviews
In Literacy and Longing in L.A.
, hailed as "the most delightful read of the year" by Liz Smith in the New York Post
, authors Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack captivated readers with a brilliantly imagined first novel. Now Kaufman and Mack return, introducing a character with a unique voice you'll never forget: Cassie Shaw, an irrepressible young woman who reinvents herself with unexpected consequences in a funny, wise, and utterly original novel about friendship, love, wildlife, and other forces of nature.
In the wilds of Topanga Canyon, Cassie is right at home with the call of birds, the sound of wind in the trees, the harmony of a world without people. But everywhere else, life is a little harder for Cassie. Her mother believes in Big Foot. Her wisecracking pet parrot is a drama queen. And at the age of thirty, newly single and without a college degree, Cassie desperately needs a decent paycheck. Which is why, against all her principles, she lies on her résumé for an office job at an elite university and then finds herself employed in academia by two professors who are as rare as the birds she covets.
One of her new bosses is Professor William Conner, a sexy, handsome, cheerfully aristocratic expert in animal behavior. Soon, under Conner's charismatic tutelage, Cassie carefully begins her personal transformation while meeting the kind of people who don't flock to wildlife preserves from impossibly brilliant academics to adorably spoiled college boys. But her future and unlikely new career is teetering on one unbearable untruth. And Cassie's masquerade is about to come undone...in a chain of events that will transform her life and the lives of those around her forever.
A novel for late bloomers of every exotic shade and stripe, A Version of the Truth is pure entertainment at once hilarious and wry, lyrical and uplifting.
"Cassie Shaw, the 30-year-old dyslexic high school dropout narrator of Kaufman and Mack's follow-up to Literacy and Longing in L.A., is devoid of self-esteem and, as the winsome novel opens, has just been widowed by a jerk who left her nothing but debt. Desperate for a job, Cassie fudges her education background on a job application and snags an entry-level university office job working under William Conner, a charismatic professor of animal behavior who ignites Cassie's desire for learning and other things. As Cassie's lust for knowledge swells and she becomes more involved with Conner, the list of her deceptions lengthens, and it's only a matter of time until budding beau Conner finds out. Kaufman and Mack lace the narrative with light humor (the rats in California's Topanga Canyon are like 'roaches in NY or liars in LA') and nods to Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Plato and Keats. Delightfully merging humor, philosophy and reflections on nature, this novel is a lot of fun and might give some readers freshman-year flashbacks." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Engaging....A thoughtful version of the girl-done-good tale." Kirkus Reviews
"Delightfully merging humor, philosophy and reflections on nature, this novel is a lot of fun and might give some readers freshman-year flashbacks." School Library Journal
About the Author
Karen Mack, a former attorney, is a Golden Globe Award-winning film and television producer. Jennifer Kaufman was a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and is a two-time winner of the national Penney-Missouri Journalism Award. Their debut novel, Literacy and Longing in L.A., was a #1 Los Angeles Times bestseller and also won the 2006 Southern California Booksellers Association Award for Fiction.
Reading Group Guide
Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack, the dynamic authors behind the bestseller Literacy and Longing in L.A.
, captivate readers once again in their wonderfully imagined novel A Version of the Truth
. In the wilds of Topanga Canyon, Cassie Shaw has always felt right at home in the midst of nature, but everywhere else, life seems to be a little harder. At the age of thirty, newly single and without a college degree, Cassie is in serious need of a paycheck. So in a desperate move, she lies on her resume when applying for an office job at an elite university. When she finds herself employed by two eccentric professors, Cassie begins to reinvent herself–and soon encounters some very unexpected consequences. Hilarious and wry, lyrical and uplifting, A Version of the Truth
asks: what happens when your life is teetering on a looming deception? And how far would you go to become the person you want to be?
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack's A Version of the Truth.
1. Discuss the storytelling approach used in this novel. Did you find Cassie’s first person narrative effective or limiting? Do you perceive her inner voice as accounting for reality? How would the story change if it were told in third person?
2. Comment on the setting of this book. What role does the wild and beautiful nature of Topanga Canyon–and the many free-spirited people it attracts, like Cassie’s mother–play on Cassie’s character and lifestyle?
3. Discuss Cassie’s decision to lie on her resume when applying for her job. Knowing all the extenuating circumstances that could take away from this act of dishonesty (her financial need, her learning disability, etc.), do you think it was worth the risk? At one point in the novel, Cassie tells Professor Pearce that she would tell the truth if she had to do it over again. Do you believe she would? Would you, if you were in her position?
4. Compare and contrast the three men we know to be Cassie’s love interests in this novel: Frank, Freddy, and Connor. In what ways is she a different person when she is with each?
5. What does it say about Cassie’s character that she considers her parrot Sam one of her best friends? Why is she able to connect with animals with such greater ease than other people?
6. Cassie says she enjoys being in the woods because “you can be whoever you want–chatty and clever and stupid and ugly and unloved and unkissed … and still feel like you belong.” What do you make of this sentiment? How does this statement go along with overarching themes in this novel?
7. In what ways is Alison initially a foil for Cassie’s character? Though she exudes perfection in her appearance, it seems she doesn’t have much to offer below the surface. What do you make of Cassie’s attempt to look and dress like her?
8. Describe Cassie’s relationship with Tiff. What does she get out of this friendship?
9. After working with Professors Connor and Pearce, Cassie begins her personal transformation and is able to grasp and take pride in her natural intelligence. But all of her accomplishments still hinge on her one unbearable untruth. In your opinion, does this make any of them less genuine?
10. On the whole, it seems Cassie’s reinvention of herself is beneficial–she becomes more confident in her thinking, is able to excel in intriguing classes, and finds love. Are there any negative aspects of her new lifestyle?
11. Cassie’s mother named her after the Greek goddess Cassandra, who could see the power of the future, but was cursed because no one would believe what she proclaimed. How is the root of Cassie’s name significant to her character, and to the story?
12. What does the ivory billed woodpecker symbolize to Cassie in this book? Do you believe she ever really saw this elusive bird? Even she doubts herself at the very end of the novel, saying, “Somewhere, deep down inside me, a thought creeps into my head. I hear it as a whisper. I hear it as a warning. Maybe the birds were never really there at all.” What do you make of the author closing the story with these words?
13. In what ways do the characters, namely Cassie and Connor, connect with the classic and popular authors that Kaufman and Mack have woven into this story, like Walden, Thoreau, Whitman, Muir, and others
14. Cassie’s best friend Tiffany tells her that there is such a thing as “a version of the truth.” And Connor tells her “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” Do you agree with either these statements?