Horror, suspense, confessional, epistolary tale, recovery memoir, cautionary tale, even, late in the novel, paranoiac noir — Petty leaps from genre to genre with dizzying velocity. At first, it’s jolting, but slowly we begin to see how she’s using shifting genres to show the way trauma works on us, how it shapes our lived experience and the way we frame that experience for others and for our own survival ... Initially, I found the resolution intellectually impressive rather than narratively or emotionally satisfying. But after a day or two, the book continued to work on me, spurring me to question my own expectations of genre, and even story itself, and their capacity to get at stickier truths about trauma and its reverberations and what we expect from narratives dealing with sexual assault. What is ideologically sound is not always narratively exciting, but is that a failure of execution or a failure of genre conventions? ... Ultimately, the novel’s true twist is less about what unfurled that fateful night than it is about form, voice, authorship.
... delectable ... The actual facts of the event remain mysterious until Alice pieces them together, detective-style, as an adult; the reader pieces things together alongside her until, with a flourish, all is revealed, and it is time to go back and start the book over to puzzle out how the author did it. (With great skill and intelligence, it turns out.) Your enjoyment of any book in this realm will hinge on your willingness to be cleverly duped; personally, I love a sense of earned bamboozlement.
With sections written in prose, college admissions essays, movie scripts and more, this is a fresh and wholly original take on an all-too-common horror story ... Petty weaves a poignant, riveting novel about the power of a story --- and how differently that power can be wielded depending on who is telling it. What is initially so striking about True Story is how easy it is to feel for and even root for Nick and his friends. In only a few short pages, Petty gives us intimate access to their sensitive sides, their insecurities and the ways that toxic masculinity has harmed and shaped them. Nick is a perfect protagonist, keenly observant and oftentimes wise beyond his years, but still coddled by society and told that he is exceptional because he is white, male and heterosexual ... Alice is also a highlight of the novel. With her talent for voice, the passages written in her hand read like a nearly academic character study in the best ways. Petty uses Alice's own college admissions essays, screenplays and interviews to tell us more about her than seems possible, and once again forces us to consider the power of voice and stories. It would be a huge disservice to reveal too much about Alice in this review, but I can say that her journey is one of the most shocking I’ve ever read, and it will certainly stay with me for a long time ... In writing about the power of the rumor at the heart of True Story, Petty turns her novel into an almost meta exploration of story. She pulls at her readers’ emotions, dragging them along every dark possibility and then just as swiftly upends their expectations, forcing them to consider how easily they can be swayed by a good storyteller --- and Petty is one of the very best. Her use of different formats and voices never once fails to meet the incredibly high standards she has set for herself. Yet somehow, even when I was not quite sure where her writing was taking me, I always ended up dumbfounded by her talent and breathtaking observations about life, womanhood and power ... an inventive and completely original novel, even when judged on format and technical ability alone. But if you take Petty’s skillful writing and combine it with her timely commentaries on sexual assault and consent, and add to that the sheer poignancy of her characters' transformations, you have something else entirely: a true masterpiece.
... impressive ... plays constantly with genre while weaving an addictive, perfectly balanced tale about a high school lacrosse party that ends in an accusation of sexual assault ... Petty is not interested in adding to the growing collection of #MeToo fiction, or at least not in any conventional way. Instead, she draws the reader in and then confounds them ... Is this a novel, then, about toxic masculinity and the way in which institutions protect their own? Yes, in part, but again Reed Petty is too savvy to leave it there. Instead, this is a story about consent, about the long-standing effects of trauma and how, and if, those who suffer a traumatic event can move on ... powerful and haunting.
... written not only to entertain but to inform and change opinions ... The four-genre concept is generally effective. The treatment of Alice in the parts written as memoir is arguably more shocking than any of the gore and violence in the horror and thriller sections. Nick, with his blind willingness to defend his friends, is more dangerous than the cliché villain who follows him around. But, sadly, the idea seems more important than the story, which lacks focus, making the author too present and her characters merely part of an agenda.
Multiple narrators and perspectives alert us to the fallibility of storytelling, the blurring of fact and fiction, the unreliability of memory, and the power of a group when it comes to swaying opinion ... This gives way to the most impressive section of the novel, a first-person-plural narrative through the lens of Nick, a lacrosse player whose team members stand accused of the assault. There is an immediacy to the voice that lands us straight into the macho, oppressive world of team sports and the imperative to support your teammates at all costs ... Nick’s youth and impressionability is well rendered, as is the predatory culture of the lacrosse scene ... In this visceral first quarter, the book has echoes of Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word and Sarah Bannan’s Weightless, both of which offer intricate pictures of transgression in close-knit American communities. Some readers will be disappointed when True Story moves away from this territory. Not everything that follows reads as fluidly ... A section with an overly attentive boyfriend/psychopath lacks depth compared with previous parts, reading more like horror pulp. Although it is a deliberate choice by the author, the writing style slackens considerably with this move into genre ... The style is not problematic in its own right but becomes an issue when it continues in the same vein in subsequent parts with Alice as narrator ... Elsewhere, the metafictional aspects become convoluted at times and there are a few too many knowing nods ... Despite these issues, there is a lightness to Petty’s genre hopping that will keep readers entertained throughout. The horror scripts are so terrible they’re great. The plot twists in later sections, where Alice works as a ghostwriter for rich businessmen, keep us guessing until the end. Even her friendship with Haley, her lone supporter back in the days of the assault, has interesting developments ... Petty is a clever writer with a sardonic wit. In the less believable parts of the book, such as Alice’s stint with Q, there are still moments that ping ... For a book with strong feminist overtones, it is perhaps surprising that the strongest voice, and the most seamless writing, come in the form of Nick ... Petty’s success is to give voice to these characters in stasis whose lives have forever been altered by a true-or-false story in the past.
...[an] innovative, genre-busting debut ...The event’s repercussions ripple out through time, as Petty explores it from various perspectives until revealing a set of shocking truths. Alice gets to tell her side, too, but in a wholly unexpected way. Themes of friendship, abuse, reality, and trauma resonate in this puzzle box of a book, and readers will be unable to put it down until they figure it out.
...[a] captivating debut ... Petty eschews conventional structure, replacing parts of the narrative with drafts of Alice’s college admissions essays, her emails to Haley after an abusive relationship as an adult, and Alice and Haley’s teenage screenplays to incendiary effect, and they mix seamlessly with the nimble prose. Though the plot sometimes wanders, Petty’s page-turner is as sly and devastating as the nature of truth.