Tuesday, November 07, 2006

T.R. Pearson: "Cry Me a River"

While poking around the Amazon website, which I am apt to do every now and again when I can spare the time, I came across an author named T. R. Pearson. He's evidently been cranking out small Southern gothic novels for the last two decades. Being a fan of Faulkner, Offutt, Pancake, Saunders, McCarthy and other Dixie stalwarts, I decided to land Pearson's "Polar" on my wishlist. There it stayed while I awaited my opportunity to buy the novel at a reasonable price. By the time I found a cheap copy at Half-Priced Books, I had virtually forgotten why I was looking for it in the first place.

I read "Polar" more than a year ago, and must admit that I now recall virtually nothing of its contents. I remember thinking that it was an adequate read, and that if I saw another book by Pearson, I'd be willing to give him another shot. Other than that, nothing about the writing really stood out to me. I certainly didn't intend to make any great sacrifices to track down more of Pearson's work. It was truly by chance that I ended up reading "Cry Me a River". It turns out that its unnamed narrator was the same character that led us through "Polar". But I only became aware of this fact afterwards by reading a profile of the author on the internet.

"Cry Me a River" concerns life in a small town in the South, and examines the foibles and passions of its quirky inhabitants as they react to a succession of violent acts. As the plot unfolds, it seems like it may be a whodunnit style mystery. But the peculiar cadences and detachment of its policeman narrator/protagonist quickly suggest otherwise. The murder at its core serves as a device on which Pearson heaps an interweaving of homespun anecdotes and digressions on the unsuspecting reader. There's a certain folksy tone that belies the meandering run-on sentences that other Southern authors (like Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy) employ. This makes the reading of this book less arduous, but also renders it less affecting. Despite the serious nature of many of the themes explored, Pearson's stylistic choices make it seem a bit slight.

But despite the reservations I have with calling this a "good" book, I did find much of it entertaining. Pearson's humor reflects the slow Southern drawl of the region's people. It comes at you in an oblique and unassuming way, and uses well the element of surprise. The plot itself was almost distractingly predictable, but the twists and turns of the language were not. Perhaps after all traces of the plot are gone from my mind, some essential trace of Southern manner will linger in the back of my mind like a slowly spreading stain. And perhaps Pearson has earned yet another chance.

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