Truth or Dare: A Book of Secrets Shared by Justine Picardie

Nikki Tranter

This is less about confession, and more about who these writers are and how they got that way.

Truth or Dare

Publisher: Australia)
Length: 256
Subtitle: A Book of Secrets Shared
Display Artist: Justine Picardie, Editor
Author: Editor
UK publication date: 2004-10

Justine Picardie's Truth or Dare: A Book of Secrets Shared is a collection of short memoirs from 12 internationally recognized writers -- Nick Hornby, Zoe Heller, Julie Myerson, Esther Freud, William Fiennes, Sabine Durrant, Rachel Cusk, Andrea Ashworth, Alice Sebold, Jon Ronson and Sophie Dahl -- with the aim of revealing a particular truth. The pieces are revealing, each provocative in their own way, but unlike the game around which they're structured, not because of embarrassing confessions of shameful thoughts or experiences. Instead, the writers have each elected to explore certain truths within their lives. This is less about confession, and more about who these writers are and how they got that way.

The book begins slowly, with "Open Sky", a 70-page deliberation by Andrea Ashworth (One in a House on Fire) on a trip with her partner through the Nevada desert. Ashworth takes a just amount of time uncovering her childhood with an abusive stepfather and a browbeaten, sometimes unstable, mother. It's a perfect introduction to the book, immediately removing any notion that it might be scandalous or gossipy as its provocative subtitle suggests. Ashworth's matter-of-fact style, too, sets up the book's direct and unsentimental language:

My throat stings, salty with unwept anger. How can it be? How can it be allowed? How were my stepfathers able to threaten us, all those years, with carving knives and pans of boiling water and letter bombs? Why did nobody do anything about it? I stare at the rock in my path.

Not all the pieces are as quite so brutal, like Jon Ronson's account of a holiday with his son in the middle of his mother's arrangements for a family-portrait-with-a-difference.

Ronson's family with its celebrity-worshipping matriarch, concerned golf-loving father, mysterious brother, and Randy Newman-obsessed Jon, the writer who (according to his mother) no one's ever heard of seems tailor-made for quirky Arrested Development-like TV. The piece centers on the portrait, with Jon's understanding of his folks' desire to commemorate their winning the coveted AA Welsh Hotel of the Year competition for their Welsh lodge waning considerably when he's asked to pick three celebrities he'd like to appear in the picture with him -- Dad's already picked Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Meanwhile, Ronson and his wife attempt to show their precocious son, Joel, the best Christmas ever with a trip to Lapland (paid for by the Guardian), complete with snow, toboggan rides and a visit with Santa. Joel wants to go to a museum instead and threatens to repeat the word "shit" over and over if his dad does not comply. Ronson eventually convinces his son to stop saying shit ("Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy didn't say shit in Narnia") and that Lapland will be great -- after they just get one perfect photo of Joel with Santa for the Guardian cover.

Joel, it seems, is as reluctant as Ronson to be turned into art, so dad finds himself resorting to bizarre acts of coercion to get his son to co-operate. It all works out in the end for both families, and what begins as a fish-out-of-water story of a man trapped in a weird family, becomes a fascinating comparison of not-so-different parenting techniques. Just as moving as Ashworth's piece, Ronson's funny side of self-examination reveals that the embarrassing and the silly are powerful life influences alongside struggle and pain.

Fatherhood is actually a bit of a theme throughout the book (Ashworth and Ronson discuss fathers and children, along with Zoe Heller, Nick Hornby and Julie Myerson), but its Sabine Durrant's "At Sea" that is perhaps the most compelling. Durrant's piece is less the revelation of a secret and more an account of something secretive she once did -- search, behind her mother's back, for information about her fighter pilot father via his old friends and war archive listings. As she learns more and more about her father from those who knew him, she realizes it's information she can only get from her mother she really wants, about Michael "Mike" Durrant as husband, father and family man.

A moment at the Yeovilton airbase museum in which she stumble across a picture of her father, for example, reveals Durrant's need to fit her father into her (and his) family:

It's of only four men, standing casually in flying suit. One of them is my father. Maybe I haven't seen photographs of him at this age before. But something about the eyes, the eyebrows, the chubbiness of the cheeks -- they're the features of my youngest son. It's like looking at Joe. And the feeling I get -- a terrible, heartbreaking pang of tenderness -- is so strong I find I've put my hand to my mouth.

Picardie suggests in her introduction, that to write personally and with unrelenting honesty is "an act of bravery on the part of a writer, to say, yes, this is how it is; this is who I am; this is what it means to be me." Her writers dare to tell their truths in markedly different ways -- Hornby (relating the pressures of life with an autistic child), Heller (exploring life with a serial-dating dad) and Dahl (discussing her first boyfriend) use a deal of humor in their pieces, while, like Durrant, Sebold (discussing her famous rape), Ashworth and Cusk (discussing body image and aging) tackle their respective issues with a more serious tone -- that come together to reveal their own truth: that all of our secrets are relieved, even just a little, when shared.





Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.