What could be a more apropos way of greeting a new year here in central Maine than embracing the debut novel of a local author? Happily we have a sensationally good one on hand, Three Things I Know Are True, by Betty Culley will be released next week by HarperCollins. This young adult novel in verse not only brings the world of rural central Maine vividly to life, it also powerfully explores timely issues such as gun control and end of life care. Culley depicts humanity in both sides of a tragic rift and a romance taking root in the harshest of soils.
Three Things I Know Are True will linger long and well in its readers’ thoughts and like any great book it will speak differently to different readers. To find out more about this quietly riveting book I nudged its charming, thoughtful, and reserved author into answering a few questions for us.
Kenny: Novels in verse don’t always use formal titles for each poem. I love yours. Were they always there?
Betty: Yes, they were, though sometimes the most fitting titles weren’t obvious until the poem was finished, and then the right title would jump out at me, like Fudge or I Meet a Baby Organic Cow.
Kenny: Aristotle defined Tragedy as “a form of drama exciting the emotions of pity and fear. Its action should be single and complete, presenting a reversal of fortune, involving persons renowned and of superior attainments…(who are) not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty… and it should be written in poetry embellished with every kind of artistic expression… wherewith to effect the purgation of such of such emotions… ” How would Aristotle feel about Three Things I Know Are True?
Betty: I think Aristotle would definitely see the human tragedy in Three Things I Know Are True and how it affected a family, a friendship and a community. Hopefully he’d also recognize the human ability for compassion and forgiveness that’s also there in the novel.
Kenny: Hannah Arendt describes the banality of evil but you seem more focused on the humanity of evil? Is that just particular to the circumstances recounted in the story?
Betty: Liv’s ability to recognize the humanity of those around her is a gift she doesn’t necessarily choose, but one that helps her heal. In an ideal world, we would all be able to do this, and maybe then the word evil would find its way out of our vocabulary.
Kenny: Guns are a bedrock aspect of Maine culture and nationally of course. What do you hope people take from your book in that regard?
Betty: The book is not a polemic, but it does show the power of firearms to change things in an irrevocable instant, as it did with Jonah.
Kenny: There are so many currents in the book: the river, the relationship of Liv and Clay, the deterioration of Jonah. Are there elements you see as inevitable or is everything attributable to human agency?
Betty: I know the Kennebec River flows in one direction, except when it doesn’t! And with this book, I often didn’t know what would happen until it happened. I guess the current took me along, too!
Kenny: Liv has such a great voice. How long have you carried it around?
Betty: Thank you, Kenny. Liv was ready to tell her story and I’m so glad her words are out there.