Seventy-nine years ago today, actor and author Ben Piazza was born in Little Rock. This is a good opportunity to discuss his 1964 novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth. Published in 1964, it is a fictional memoir of a young man growing up in Little Rock during the 1940s.
Readers of the book will see references to once-familiar names of stores along Main Street and other Little Rock landmarks of the time. Though the book is a work of fiction, Piazza based many of the young hero’s sites on his own. Sadly many of the buildings which play important roles in the novel are no longer extant including the hero’s rock house on 14th Street, Centennial Elementary, Immanuel Baptist Church on Bishop Street, and the family’s shoe repair store at 8th and Main Street . Little Rock Central High School (then Little Rock High School) is one of the few structures mentioned in the book which is still standing.
Following the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, publishers were looking for the next novel of fictional memoirs set in the American South. Piazza finished the novel in early 1963 and it was published the next year. It was met with nice reviews and was later published in paperback. He dedicated the novel to his good friend Edward Albee; at the time the novel was released he was starring on Broadway in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Though it was Piazza’s only novel, he did later write the plays The Sunday Agreement and Lime Green/Khaki Blue.
The Central Arkansas Library System has a copy of The Exact and Very Strange Truth available for checking out. Copies are also usually available on eBay and other web-based purchase sites.