We’re currently going through a time that is different than anything most of us have experienced before due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the stay-at-home order issued to Colorado residents. While much has previously been said on the changes in our personal connections due to the rise of social media and the increase of our time spent online, we are now facing social distancing guidelines and the urgent need to physically distance ourselves from one another. Because of drastic changes to work situations, necessary closures of regular gathering spots, and the current guideline to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others, isolation and a further lack of connection to those in our community is a real concern.
While set pre-pandemic, Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project (2020, Viking) confronts many of the concerns surrounding our current lack of connection, and it does so within a story that is uplifting, sweet, and feel-good, which feels more than welcome at a time such as this.
Julian, an artist in his seventies who lives alone and rarely interacts with others, leaves an almost-blank notebook at a local café with a call to action written in the front: everyone lies about their lives, but what would happen if you shared your one defining truth with those around you? Monica discovers the notebook and not only shares her own story, but reaches out to Julian after reading his, beginning a series of life altering events and connections between many new and unlikely people.
The Authenticity Project has an intriguing and fun-to-follow storyline, but the focus on each character and the way they individually experience many of the same situations offers a meaningful reminder to consider the perspectives of others. In one scene told from Monica’s perspective, she happily dances and enjoys a carefree moment, only to catch the eye of a passing mother with her baby, “who seemed to say, look at your life, so frivolous and empty.” The following chapter, focusing on the same mother, describes seeing Monica as someone who is “free, unencumbered, independent” and who seems to look back at her “with pity in her eyes.” Each woman, passing one another for only a few seconds, places all of their own assumptions, insecurities, and stresses into the gaze of the other person.
At their surface level descriptions, many of the characters in The Authenticity Project fall into stereotypes existing at varying degrees of annoying – a grumpy old man, an uptight unmarried woman upset about approaching middle age, a wealthy and rude day trader with a drug addiction, a surf bum, and a mommy Instagram influencer. Each of these characters, however, prove to be more than what they initially seem, and regularly find themselves pleasantly surprised by one another. Not only do they each choose to be vulnerable and share their own stories, but they reach out to one another time and again, attracted to the honesty and connection that participating in this simple project brought into each of their lives.
You can check out The Authenticity Project online as an ebook or eaudiobook through denverlibrary.org as well as at your closest branch library once it reopens.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library