Here’s something I stumbled upon while casually browsing for some shorter fiction to read in one sitting. It’s a surreal story that starts out like a more sophisticated creepypasta and, for a chilling second, makes you question you perception of reality.
Title: Two Truths And A Lie
Author: Sarah Pinsker
Original Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: 17 June 2020
Genre: Horror – Urban Fantasy
Standalone or Series: Standalone
Synopsis: Marco’s older brother Denny has just died, leaving behind him a house full to the brim with all the junk he had hoarded. Childhood friend Stella comes to town and volunteers to help Marco with the herculean endeavour of cleaning up, a task that, for all its unpleasantness, soon turns into a trip down memory lane.
As we see Stella dig through piles of old items of all sorts, we are casually informed that she’s a compulsive liar: even the ordinary information she provided Marco with about her job and marital status are revealed as lies, told for no particular reason other than making reality more interesting.
One of Stella’s lies, however, leads to unforseen developments: when she mentioned an old tv show of their childhood that she has just made up and that never existed, to her surprise Marco appears to remember it as well, and, even more disturbingly, some VHS of the show are retrieved among Denny’s possessions. The show turns out to be rather unsettling in its content as well, since its host, Uncle Bob, spent the entire time telling ominous tales to the audience while a bunch of local kids played around, seemingly unaware of the disturbing shadows each of the stories cast on their future lives.
Stella investigates, diving deeper and deeper in the murky waters of memory, where the boundaries between lies and truth, tales and real life aren’t as sound as they normally seem.
Analysis: Two Truths And A Lie is written in third person limited, keeping us deeply immersed into the protagonist’s point of view – which is, of course, by its very nature unreliable. Pinsker’s prose is very clear and approachable, but at the same time quite evocative: indeed, the author is adept at using apparently mundane images to create an increasingly dreamlike atmosphere.
Such a style is very effective in conveying the rapidly changing mood of the story: at the very beginning we are hooked with a melancholically realistic ambience, where the main characters are sketched with a few brushes, but vividly enough to gain our sympathy, and where the setting is shown as familiar and relatable.
From there, we are inexorably dragged down a delirious slope, where the point of view character is induced to question her memory and her sanity, faced as she is with ominous discoveries that defy any rational explanation. Later, these classically horror vibes give way to an even more surreal crescendo as the story heads towards its ending – where, without spoiling too much, we are definitely left with more questions than answers.
Beside toying with out trust and artfully shifting the ambience to gives us the desired creeps, the story also hints at some inherently intriguing theme, as it suggests a less one-sided relationship between facts and storytelling. The extreme, fantastical way in which Stella’s lies seem to create reality (not to mention what’s suggested about Uncle Bob’s tv show) may double as a reflection on how memory is indeed more malleable than we like to think, and how beliefs and words may to different extent shape the world.
Conclusions & Recommendations: Two Truths And A Lie manages to pack a lot in its limited length, and it does so without feeling cramped or unfulfilling. I’d surely recommended to anyone who likes more subtle, psychological horror stories, that feature no dramatic action and lean heavily on the surreal side of things. On the other hand, if you like having a clear-cut solution to your mysteries you may not enjoy this story as much – although for the time it takes it might still worth a try.
Content Warning: Death, hoarding, mental illness.