Big Lies in a Small Town
By Diane Chamberlin
(391 pages, fiction, 2019)
This novel is told by two women from two different time periods. In 1940, Anna Dale, a fledgling artist from New Jersey, wins the commission to paint a mural in the Post Office of Edenton, North Carolina. Her mother has recently passed away, and Anna is alone in the world. Anna bravely sets out to paint the mural, even though there are people in the small town who think that this “girl artist” should never have been given the job. Anna makes some friends, and has some young people helping her with the huge project. But this is 1940 in North Carolina, and one of the young students, who is very interested in art, is Black. Anna starts bringing him art books and becomes a bit of a mentor to him. People begin to talk. Then Anna starts painting alone at night in the big barn outside of town. And trouble follows her there.
The book starts with the second woman, Morgan Christopher. It is 2018 and she is in jail in North Carolina. She is given a chance to get out of jail early – if she restores the post office mural that Anna Dale left behind. Morgan is astonished and puzzled – she doesn’t know of any connection between herself and her visitors or this project. And she is an artist, not an art restorer. But if it means getting out of jail early, she will find a way.
The book goes back and forth between the two women and what is happening in their lives. There are some burning questions – why is Morgan in jail – what is she guilty of? Why has she been chosen to restore the mural? What happened to Anna Dale, and why are there disturbing symbols painted into the mural, some that have been painted over again and again? I enjoyed reading about both their lives, their struggles, and the mysterious post office mural.
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