Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Truth is in The House

 By Michael J. Coffino

Koehlerbooks     2021

355 pages     Literary

We seldom, if ever, notice how one life can parallel another. In his first novel, Michael Coffino, a California attorney and high school basketball coach, narrates the story of two men who keep “running into each other,” first as boys, then young soldiers, as adults, and finally as retirees. Here is a summary of the plot. The subtitle indicates that the novel was inspired by true events.

As a young boy in the late 1950s, Jimmy O'Farrell emigrates with his family from Ireland to Manhattan to bask in the dawn of a new life. Thousands of miles away, the family of Jaylen Jackson seeks to build a life amid Jim Crow culture in Mississippi. As teenagers, both boys struggle to come of age in a racially divisive world, suffering horrific tragedies that shape their characters and life missions. Jimmy seeks to define what it means to stand for someone when the chips are down, while Jaylen embarks on a journey to gain respect beyond the color of his skin. 

Fleeing the past, both families land in neighboring Bronx communities in the 1960s, where Jimmy and Jaylen's lives first intersect, on the basketball courts and then in the Vietnam jungle. Repeatedly tested as men of different races, their friendship faces its toughest challenge outside a Bronx bar-with fatal consequences. Truth Is in the House is an epic and provocative tale that plumbs historical and modern racial themes and explores redemption, forgiveness, and the power of connecting through the human spirit.


Here are several things that I appreciated about the book. I especially liked the love and care expressed by the parents of Jimmy and Jaylen. They were clear in the ways in which they wanted their children to succeed in life and tried very hard to shield their children from hardships and tragedy, even though both young men were exposed to and lived through both hardship and tragedy. Both boys were taught a work ethic by their parents. And finally, both men were loving and caring grandparents in their older years—something I could very well relate to.


And I loved reading about the sports. I was especially taken by the chapter about the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and the Pirates. Jimmy and his father bonded by listening to the final game on the radio. (I suppose I got a kick out of this particular story because I remember listening to that game during my civics class at my high school in Minnesota. What a great teacher to let us listen!) Sports continues to play a large role in the lives of the characters throughout the novel.


The language Coffino chooses to use in the novel is quite erudite, with some of the dialogue a bit stilted and uncomfortable. He gets his message across sometimes by hitting us over the head with the point he is trying to make. Coffino is better at narrating the settings and the plot, and I really appreciated the arrangement of the chapters. I always knew who and what the upcoming chapter was going to be about. I also appreciated the striking cover.


Through the plot and the narration, the author’s views on the racial divide come shining through, and were very much appreciated. I kept thinking of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that I am currently reading and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I read several years ago. These books plus Truth is in The House have given me a new perspective on the world of racial differences in which we live. What really shines in Truth is in The House is the humanity we share, no matter our origins or our life circumstances.


The author’s website. I thank the publicist for offering me a copy of the book. It is published this month. 

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