Idea/Concept: Leonard Cachola's The Truth Within: A Humanist's Memoir details the author's eventful life: Houston childhood with an alcoholic father, his misadventures as a cartoonist and graphic designer, his uncertain romances, a cancer diagnosis, the death of his father, and his attempts to reconcile his lived experience of the world with churchgoing. And swing dancing -- he often goes out for swing dancing. Cachola's memoir surveys a lifetime's worth of spirited wandering and wondering, steeped in vivid memories of Gen X pop culture.
Prose: Late in the book, Cachola praises the writing on the blog of a woman he was dating as "full of life and verve." At its best, The Truth Within exhibits those same qualities, especially in Cachola's quick, precise physical descriptions, his ear for memorable dialogue, and his detailed accounting of the joy and confusion of uncertain romantic relationships. Cachola adheres to the show-don't-tell school of storytelling, dramatizing his life in scenes that sometimes carry on at great length, such as the many accounts of first meetings with women he then dated. Those passages might benefit from trimming and more authorial guidance alerting readers to what matters most rather than immersing them for so long in the moment.
Originality: Cachola's experiences, while unique, often glance up against universal truths, such as the terror of facing a bad diagnosis, the pain of losing a parent, the baffling rules and rituals of dating, and the struggle for spiritual meaning.
Execution: Despite many memorable and moving passages, Cachola's memoir lacks a strong narrative hook and the sense of momentum crucial to the most compelling storytelling. The lengthy scenes that introduce a succession of new romantic partners slow the book down, as does the occasionally wordy passage of exposition. The many references to music, movies, video games, and swing dancing establish a vivid milieu, thought the memoir might be enriched with some analysis of what these cultural choices meant and mean to the author.
Date Submitted: January 26, 2020